Founded in East Harlem in 1969 by a group of Puerto Rican artists and educators, the Museo del Barrio has become one of the premier cultural and educational institutions in New York for promoting the work of Puerto Rican and Latino(a) artists in general. Among the founders of the Museum were Puerto Rican leaders and artists Martha Vega, Rafael Montañez Ortiz (also known as Ralph Ortiz), and Hiram Maristany. Writer and artist Jack Agueros and art historian Susana Torruella Leval are among the most prominent Puerto Rican directors of the Museum. The institution always has had strong ties with New York’s Puerto Rican and other Latino communities.
From its location in a neoclassical Fifth Avenue building, a site it occupies since 1977, the Museum holds a permanent collection of the works of Latino artists, in addition to its many rotating exhibits, education programs, publications, and festivals. Their permanent collections and their exhibitions range from pre-Columbian to contemporary art. The Museum emerged during a period of significant social and political upheaval in U.S. society that included the civil rights struggles of ethnoracial minorities. A cultural revitalization movement also emerged among these disenfranchised groups and was manifested in their literary, artistic, and musical expressions. Because of its grassroots origins, the Museum maintains close ties with the Puerto Rican and Latino communities in general, and part of its mission is to promote popular arts and art education.
The Museum’s 1973 exhibit, “The Art Heritage of Puerto Rico,” a joint initiative with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, afforded the opportunity for a large collective exhibit of a whole gamut of artistic expressions, including Taíno cemíes [small stone-carved deities] other stone crafts, ceramics, santero wooden carvings, classical and modern paintings, posters, silkscreens, photographs, and sculptures. Since its inception, the Museum has sponsored many other exhibits by Puerto Rican and other Latino(a) artists. One of the most notable was the 1978 exhibit, “Bridge Between Two Islands,” which fostered the connections between Puerto Rican artists from the island and the diaspora.
The changes in the ethnic composition of the city of New York during the last few decades, produced by the arrival of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Central American countries, and from non-Hispanic Caribbean islands has expanded the artistic focus of the Museo del Barrio, which now defines itself as a major promoter of Caribbean and Latin American art. This cultural institution has achieved a high level of recognition not only in New York but within the United States.
Author: Dra. Edna Acosta Bel
Published: September 11, 2014.
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