Pepe Montero steps to the center of Seattle’s creative scene with two leadership roles

Charley Davison


Jose Luis “Pepe” Montero, executive director of Hugo House & La Sala, describes how the organizations he leads assist Latinx artists in providing them with much-needed resources.

In the past few months, Seattle resident Jose Luis “Pepe” Montero has taken executive director roles for the Hugo House and La Sala, two nonprofit organizations at the forefront of empowering local artists. 

First came his role at La Sala, an organization focused on exhibiting Latinx artwork across Washington. Then, one month after that, in March, Pepe (as he prefers to be called)  became the acting executive director at the Hugo House, a writing workshop in Capitol Hill that was hit hard by the pandemic. It’s a second act for someone who began his professional life as a software engineer and spent 20 years at Microsoft before becoming a creative leader.

Jim Cantu, board member and treasurer of La Sala, described the organization as an important community that funds Latinx artists with culture grants and fundraising so that they can afford to do their art. La Sala, which is Spanish for living room, has no physical headquarters but often rents large galleries to host shows.

“The main reason we hired Pepe earlier this year is because of his heart,” said Cantu, “but I’ve known him for years as a talented artist who is active in the community.”

Cantu also praised how quickly Pepe has been able to help La Sala prepare for a large Indigenous art exhibit at the end of the year while also working for other nonprofits. Pepe is organizing that project while filling in as the executive director of the Hugo House, ensuring the organization can offer writing classes and workshops to all interested.

The mid-afternoon sun shines through the windows of the Hugo House on May 17, 2024. The building also has a large auditorium and an outdoor courtyard. (Photo by Charley Davison)

“They’re very different organizations,” said Pepe, “Hugo House has a physical facility that we are in right now, which takes considerable resources to run, whereas we put all of our resources into events or commissions for La Sala.” Hugo House offers a multitude of classes for writers of all levels who want to improve their craft. 

Pepe’s journey to these positions began before he came to the United States.

“Ever since I was in high school, I had this conundrum because I was very good at math but I also had this affinity for the humanities, in particular journalism and writing,” said Pepe. At his high school in his native Mazatlán, Mexico, he did radio station and programming classes, but his college options offered no path to merge humanities and STEM, so he chose to be a programmer.

Throughout his 20 years as a software engineer in the United States, he took what he called personal enrichment classes. 

“Everything from photography to filmmaking to writing,” said Pepe. “My first writing class was actually here at Hugo House; writing was the most attractive because I had time while I had a full-time job.”

When he finally decided to quit his job and pursue writing, he did so because his brain felt “starved.” He went to Madrid for six years and got his MFA in creative writing at Escuela de Escritores. He said he wrote in Spanish and really improved his storytelling skills in his primary language.

“When I came back to Seattle, my first thought was going back to technology, but then I thought it would be a shame to stop pursuing this dream,” said Pepe. He established himself in the literary scene of Puget Sound by working for multiple nonprofits, such as Seattle Escribe. However, La Sala eventually attracted Pepe as a very important job because right before he left for his MFA, they were his first commission for a play. It was called Cogito, Ergo Sum.

“It was this short play in English about a college professor dealing with the uncertainty of life,” said Pepe. “They paid me for it and let me show it at a venue in Pioneer Square.”

When La Sala offered him the executive director job in January, he took it. 

Part of La Sala’s mission is to pay Latinx artists living wages. Nearly 15 percent of Washington identifies as Latino, but according to Pepe, the cultural grants given out by Washington state to artists are not distributed evenly across demographic groups. Pepe said that, coming from Mexico, he was amazed when someone was willing to pay him for his play despite his newcomer status.

“We feel that Latinx artists don’t have the right amount of support, and that’s something we’ve been fighting for,” said Pepe. “We want the young people to be able to look up to these artists too.”

La Sala is working to enrich the Latinx arts community in Washington, and Pepe is leading this charge, working with curators and local venues to ensure the scene flourishes. 

The organization is planning a three-month exhibit at the Columbia City Art Gallery, which will open in November 2024. According to Cantu, the exhibit will feature indigenous visual art paired with storytelling and writing.

“We are still working out the details, but it’s something to be excited about,” said Cantu.

Cover Photo: Jose Luis “Pepe” Montero stands at the entrance of the Richard Hugo House on May 17, 2024, in Seattle. The organization, which offers writing classes and facilitates readings, is named for the famed Pacific Northwest American poet. (Photo by Charley Davison)

Charley Davison

Charley Davison is a third-year student at the University of Washington majoring in journalism and public interest communications and minoring in business. Based in Seattle and Kansas City, he is consistently interested in telling stories that captivate people while serving the diverse interests of many communities.

Publisher’s Notes: Washington Latino News and a class in the Journalism and Public Interest Communication program at the University of Washington are partners in best serving the Hispanic and Latino communities.