America’s changing demographics is a reality that will increasingly impact museums whose audience continues to primarily be middle-to-upper class white Americans. For instance, it is projected that, by 2050, the Hispanic/Latino populations will comprise 30 percent of the U.S. population (Farrell & Medvedeva, 2010). So what are museums doing? Verónica Betancourt tackled this question in her provocative Masters Thesis, Brillan por su Ausencia: Latinos as the Missing Outsiders of Mainstream Art Museums. Through her work, I learned that the Denver Art Museum (DAM) had recently hired a full-time, permanent Latino Cultural Programs Coordinator, demonstrating a significant institutional commitment to serving members of Denver’s Latino community. Curious to learn more about this initiative, I invited Madalena Salazar, DAM’s Latino Cultural Programs Coordinator, to blog for the Incluseum. –Rose
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Exactly three years ago, I moved to Denver with aspirations to work in Education at the Denver Art Museum (DAM). As I write this post, I can proudly say that I have worked as the Latino Cultural Programs Coordinator at the Denver Art Museum for over a year. Though I discovered several years ago that museum education was my “calling,” I am still often surprised that I hold the position I do at an institution long respected in the field for its innovative educational programs. Maybe it was because I had seen one too many slightly confused faces around interview tables when hiring committees tried to make sense of my varied experience as a student mentor; community organizer; volunteer coordinator; advocate for educational access; and expertise in Spanish colonial art history and museum practices. I am thankful, though, that the staff at DAM recognized there is something useful about hiring an activist art historian that has an interest in changing the way museums interact with their surrounding communities. My current supervisor only became more pleased when I pontificated on why museums are exactly the place to engage diverse audiences, despite the fact that it too rarely happens on site.
Reflecting on the past year, I can say that we have made big strides in terms of engaging our Latino audiences, and we are working on innovative projects with those audiences in mind. Yet, considering the intricacies of our quickly changing communities, we have mountains of work ahead of us. To me, it is an exciting challenge, not an insurmountable task.
The DAM has a long history of engaging Latino audiences, partly because it has been considering how museum education can help make the institution more comfortable and inclusive for broad audiences for awhile. For example, we have had a full-time, fully-funded Spanish Language and Community Outreach Coordinator position for a long time now. She has worked tirelessly to invite Spanish speaking visitors to experience the DAM, and consider how the voice of Family Programs is a bilingual one. A museum that prioritizes families, and speaks bilingually, as we do, often indicates a place that feels inclusive for everyone.
Unfortunately, numbers show this is not the case. With the Latino population in Denver reaching 30%, audience figures for our museum, those around the metro area, and nationwide show a small fraction of Latinos in attendance. Despite our long and hard work, museums do not seem to fit the bill for our Latino community members. Perhaps inviting people to partake in an experience falls flat when there are few resources available for that audiences on site? This question was the impetus for the establishment of my position.
My position of Latino Programs Coordinator at the DAM is important because my role is to promote change on-site, first through regular educational programs (CelebrARTE being at the forefront), and then throughout the institution. I plant kernels of ideas around the institution to get everyone thinking of how they can serve the needs of Latino audiences through their own role in the museum. The reality is that there isn’t a simple solution for museums to implement in view of making a particular audience segment become engaged on-site. I could not, in my role as an educator, do all that it takes to meet the needs of these audiences. I can, however, listen to our audiences’ needs, implement what I can, and encourage other members of the institution to do their part. This, in my opinion, is what makes a museum inclusive. Inclusion requires everyone’s efforts.
The fact that managers across departments of the DAM are really thinking about how they can best serve the needs of our Latino audiences by, for example, changing their communications messages, thinking about how digital media can revolutionize engagement, or including more diverse exhibitions means that staff is listening. Through me, they hear the recommendations of our community synthesized into actionable next steps.
Traditionally, encouraging such large-scale change has been met with resistance in museums, but times are changing. Museums across the nation are recognizing that we are all affected by demographic and economic changes. The DAM has a history of being a comfortable and welcoming place, so I run into few road-blocks, thankfully. As usual, the major obstacles are resources and staffing. It only goes so far to act inclusive if an institution will not put its money where its mouth is, or diversify its staff makeup. I think that as cultural programs become more successful, and audience builds, there will be little choice but to make sure the staff reflects the make-up of the community, and funding proves that the institution supports all audiences equally.
When I was hired, I was charged with implementing a monthly, Latino-focused program, as quickly as possible. The Education department here, at least, knew that there was no time to hem and haw, that action needed to happen immediately in order to get the gears turning. Thankfully, I had a vision, and now CelebrARTE, a program that celebrates the arts and cultures of Latinos in Denver and beyond, is an established live program of DAM. Through it, we are hearing that the DAM is feeling culturally inclusive because, to paraphrase one of our guests, “we have family activities in Spanish, so we are celebrating families spending time together. There is nothing more culturally relevant than being able to spend time as a family.”
Stay-tuned for more on the makings of CelebrARTE!
Madalena Salazar is the Latino Cultural Programs Coordinator at the DAM. She developed, launched, and manages DAM’s first monthly, bilingual family program, CelebrARTE, which celebrates the arts and cultures of Latinos in Denver and beyond. This program is at the heart of the DAM’s institution-wide efforts to better serve the needs of their diverse, Latino community members.