Keeping up with the mission or the changing time? El Museo del Barrio’s 50 years

Posted on Jun - 25 - 2019

Inhabiting the neo-classical Heckscher Building on Fifth Avenue, the presence of El Museo del Barrio marks the space that Latinx community carved for itself in New York City. This year, the oldest museum dedicated to Latino art in the United States celebrated its 50th anniversary on June 11. Framed with the phrase “A museum is a school: the artists learn to communicate. The public learns to make connections” written on its sober façade, this sentence becomes a mantra and recalls the humble origins of the museum, from a public-school classroom to a leading actor in the City’s Museum Mile.
courtesy: Hyperallergic

Nevertheless, the Museum that emerged from the needs of the Latin American community to have a common space for artistic and intellectual discussion and exchange is being accused by some as to have strayed away from its original mission. 

During June 11, protestors that read out the Mirror Manifesto occupied El Museo’s galleries. What seemed like an inoffensive celebration, full of Puerto Rican music concerts, salsa dances, and family activities, was taken by storm by a group of 15 protestors that wore T-shirts declaring “El Museo Fue del Barrio.” Amidst the most political pieces in the exhibition, the activists read out the Mirror Manifesto, an open letter released in April in an attempt to steer the museum’s management and board in a different direction signed by over 544 people, mostly artists.  

The overall message was that the museum has been abandoning its initial ties to the community and underrepresented artists and diverting its efforts to pursue a market-driven agenda for the branding and fundraising purposes. The act included artists and curators and even Jasmine Ramirez, a former board member at El Museo. The shared dissatisfaction of the group was fueled by a series of recent scandals, including the canceled exhibition of Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, the display of Lucio Fontana and the appointment of Brazilian curator Rodrigo Moura instead of hiring an expert in Latinx Art. The overall sentiment of the activist was that they wanted the museum to refocus on its original missions and tied to the local community of artists. 

After 50 years of history and evolution, it’s easy to forget the original mission of an organization, especially in a world where a globalized order prevails, and cultural frontiers have been blurred. Still, is it fair to ask for a resourceful institution to ignore the global uproar and concentrate on a local mission that could have been outgrown by this time? Or are these hubs more important as strongholds of local cultures and identity? 

By: Gabriela Martinez de la Hoz

courtesy: NBC News

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