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New Artist Residency Program at El Museo Latino supports the practice of local Latino artists

June 10, 2016 2 comments

Omaha artist residencies for area visual artists are popping up with more frequency. That’s a welcome development in a city that for a long time pretty much only offered these opportunities to visiting artists, other than those grant funded residencies in schools and such, which left locals searching for residencies elsewhere. The Union for Contemporary Art and Carver Bank opened up the local artist residency scene here and now El Museo Latino has added to the mix. As any artist will tell you, it’s important to have local residency options because artists everywhere, including here, struggle finding access to studio space, equipment and venues to show their work. A residency typically addresses all those concerns, at least temporarily, by givng the artist a concentrated period of time to focus on their practice and to grow themselves personally and professionally. If nothing else, it exposes the artist and his/her work to new opportunities, communites and networks that might lead to commissions and patrons. The barriers to practice and exhibition artists face can be even greater for artists of color and that’s why the Union, Carver and Museo artist residency programs are potential game changers for participants. The Union program is undergoing some tweaking with the organization’s move to the Blue Lion this fall. The Carver is dormant as the Bemis tries figuring out its purpose. That makes Museo’s new program even more important. Two questions I’m sure many artists are asking are, Why aren’t more arts organizations stepping up to offer artist residencies and will the same old artists get the residency slots that are available? Another question which I know fr a fact has already been asked is whether the Museo residency will be opened to non-Latinos and to non-area residents in the future.

 

New Artist Residency Program at El Museo Latino supports the practice of local Latino artists

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in El Perico (el-perico.com)

Artists are a diverse lot but a fundamental issue they all face at some point is finding space to practice their craft and showcase their work. The challenge can be greater for artists of color who may lack access to facilities and materials as well as to circles of influence. El Museo Latino is helping fill that gap with its new Artist Residency Program in support of area Latino artists.

The program builds on international residencies the museum’s hosted and it realizes a long-held dream of founder-executive director Magdalena Garcia to offer a residency for local artists.

Bart Vargas, Hugo Zamorano and Aaron Olivo, all of Omaha, comprise the first class. They will toil away at Museo in July and August during their two-month residencies. Garcia says each is at different stages in their careers and each works in different mediums. Supporting diverse artists where they are at and giving them a blank slate to create is the residency’s mission. So, too is exposing residents to seasoned art professionals with national and international resumes.

“We have a lot of talent and a lot of need in the local Latino artist community,” Garcia says. “It isn’t just about giving them the space, it’s about giving them the resources to develop their work. We want to provide them with a framework of opportunity and see where they can run with that.”

 

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Bart Vargas

 

The most established of the three, Vargas, a University of Nebraska at Omaha art educator, says, “One of the things I hope this residency does is promote awareness of Latino artists in the Omaha community. We have a thriving art scene in the metro area, but I feel Latino artists, or for that matter artists of color, are quieter or not seen as much. I hope this residency brings more visibility.” He adds, “Space, materials and time to make art are all costs to the artist. Anytime an artist is given free space and financial support, it is a blessing.

 

Hugo Zamorano

 

Zamorano, a recent UNO graduate, says, “The experience will grow me in practice because I will have a space to work in outside of home. I will also be working alongside two great artists, which I think will be great for learning off each other and talking about art. I am currently working with Aaron (Olivo) on a mural at 25th and N in La Plaza De La Raza. I have never worked with Bart directly, so I am excited for that.”

Olivo says, “El Museo Latino has been a part of our neighborhood for a long time and I have always felt a connection as an artist and South Omaha native. I am by no means a studied artist. This is a first for me, so every aspect will help me grow. Just the environment alone will broaden my view as an artist as well as someone who works directly in the neighborhood.”

 

Aaron Olivo is an Omaha born tattoo artist that works for Dr. Jacks photo by Clarissa Romero: A
 Aaron Olivo

 

Garcia has built in a mentoring component. Mexican artist, art educator and art administrator Humberto Chavez and president-founder of the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, Carlos Tortolero, will share their expertise and experience about exhibiting and venues.

“Both guests will make studio visits with our resident artists and engage in discussions with them. Hopefully we can expand our network of working with other institutions as well as other artists,” Garcia says. “That’s a real plus with our residency. We’re not just giving you a place to work, time to work, and a stipend, but we’re trying to provide some other opportunities you wouldn’t necessarily be able to get otherwise.”

Garcia has a history of making Museo a conduit between local and visiting artists. Just last year she developed the exhibition Maiz with  Museo de Filatelia de Oaxaca (MUFI), a postage stamp museum in Oaxaca, Mexico. Twelve local artists showed work alongside that of 10 Oaxaca artists. The theme of corn was chosen due to its importance to both Nebraska and Latin America. Prints of five postage stamps depicting different varieties of corn were selected from the MUFI collection and the artists created works inspired by the images. The exhibit ran five months here and traveled to MUFI last April, where it’s on view through September. Maiz is among many cross-cultural exchanges Garcia’s organized. Her opening doors for the international community of artists of Mexican descent earned her a lifetime achievement in the arts award from the Mexican government in 2015.

Her efforts include a long association with the well-connected Humberto Chavez, whose artistic relationships extend throughout Mexico. Those ties offer the possibility for Museo resident artists to get their work seen by wider audience. “That’s a huge window of opportunity for our artists,” Garcia says.,

 

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Magdalena Garcia, ©photo by Bill Sitzmann

 

Other than showing up 15 hours a week, she says, “There are very few requirements with the residency. We’re giving them the freedom to create, to experiment and to explore as they see fit. We’re not demanding they have work ready to exhibit at the end. But we will accommodate their work when it’s ready.”

All three artists plan trying out new mediums or returning to mediums they used to practice in or to further projects already underway. Aaron Olivo echoes a shared sentiment by saying, “We are responsible for paving a path for artists here in South Omaha as well as the surrounding area” and for using the residency to its “full potential.”

Garcia expects the artists to be program ambassadors. It has already drawn interest from Latino and non-Latino artists around the nation, though for now it’s only for Latino artists living within a 70 mile radius of Omaha. She intends to expand the program to two or three rounds of residents in 2017. Applications for the next round open in January.

The residency is made possible in part by a $20,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant that marked the first time Museo applied for direct funding from the NEA.

“We were thrilled to receive that and hopefully people see it as a reflection of our growth and the continuation of what we started out to do 23 years ago,” Garcia says.

Visit http://www.elmuseolatino.org.

El Museo Latino opened as Midwest’s first Latino art and history museum-cultural center

June 14, 2011 10 comments

Magdalena Garcia is one of those one-woman bands whose all consuming devotion to her passion, art, is so complete that one finds it hard to imagine how the museum she founded and directs, El Museo Latino in Omaha, would ever survive without her. She is hands-on involved in virtually every aspect of the place, which for its relatively small size presents a tremendous number of exhibitions and programs. The museum is a real jewel in the city and was one of the redevelopment anchors that signaled to others the promise of the South Omaha community it resides in. When she opened the museum 18 years ago South Omaha was in decline but she stuck it out, found a great new site in the heart of the South O business district and she’s seen the area around it transition from nearly a ghost town look and feel to a vibrant, bustling hub of largely Latino owned and operated businesses. I did the following story for The Reader (www.thereader.com) a few years ago. Maggie, as she’s known, had already grown the museum into a first-rate arts venue of high quality exhibits and programs by that time, and she’s taken it to even greater heights since then.

El Museo Latino opened as Midwest’s first Latino art and history museum-cultural center

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

As preparations for Cinco De Mayo festivities continued earlier this month at El Museo Latino, founder and executive director Magdalena Garcia seemed to be everywhere at once in the sprawling brick building housing the museum at 4701 1/2 South 25th Street. Now in its eighth year, the museum is very much a one-woman show.

With a small staff and a meager budget its survival depends on Garcia, whose formidable drive brought it from concept to reality in five short weeks in early 1993. She does everything from unpacking crates to framing works to leading tours to presenting lectures to schmoozing at fundraisers to writing grants to giving dance lessons. She even locks up at night. It’s her baby. And, despite protests to the contrary, she would not have it any other way. Her work is her life’s mission.

“It’s definitely a passion. I’m totally immersed in it. It’s never, never boring. There’s always something new to do and learn, and that’s exciting,” said Garcia, a Mexico City native who has kept close to her heritage since emigrating with her family to Omaha in the early 1960s. Such devotion is typical for Garcia.

She had an epiphany serving as a Joslyn Art Museum Docent during a 1984 exhibition of art and artifacts from the Maximilian-Bodmer collection on permanent loan to Joslyn from her then employer, Northern Natural Gas, where she was human resources manager. Her  experience then inspired a desire to dig deeper into that world and eventually led her to reorder her life around art, something she’d only dabbled in before.

“I remember thinking how wonderful it would be to be that close to real art every day. That was an exciting prospect to me. After the exhibit ended I stayed on as a volunteer in the Joslyn’s art library. Then I found myself taking vacations to see exhibits in Boston, Los Angeles, Europe. As I saw more art I found traveling to exhibitions a few days a year wasn’t enough anymore. I wanted to make art my profession. To work in a museum. I just didn’t know how I was going to get there.”

Changing Paths
Her first step on that journey was to switch her major from business to art history while a part-time University of Nebraska at Omaha student. The next step came when her company downsized in 1988 and she accepted a severance package. She used the money to enter graduate school at Syracuse University, where she embarked on a dual master’s program in art history and museum studies. After a fateful decision to change her focus from Renaissance to Latin American art, her research on Mexican muralists took her to New York, Los Angeles (where she completed an internship at the L.A. County Museum of Art) and Mexico City. “It really brought me full circle,” she said.

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Magdalena Garcia

 

When New York’s illustrious Guggenheim Museum courted her to head-up its Latin American Art Department it confirmed her marketability as a bilingual woman with art and business expertise. “That was an eye-opener,” she said. “It showed me I could be a tremendous resource to an institution wanting to reach the growing Hispanic population.” She turned the Guggenheim down, however, because she could not justify stopping short of completing the academic path she had worked so long and hard to follow.

Then, in the fall of 1992, something happened to derail her conventional museum track. While in Omaha for a one-day Hispanic Heritage program and exhibit she was struck by the “overwhelming” requests she received to speak to school and community groups and by the “need for a space where we could show art year-round.” That’s when she got the idea of starting an Omaha Hispanic museum.

Bringing a Vision to Life
Her plan from the outset was for a museum to be based in its cultural center — South Omaha. When her search for a space turned-up a former print shop in the basement of the Livestock Exchange Building, she negotiated a one-year lease with eight months free rent in lieu of her cleaning up the ink, grease and smoke-stained site.

Armed with pledges of donated supplies from individuals and businesses, work proceeded at a fever pitch, especially once Garcia and her board decided to open in a mere 34 days to kick-off that year’s Cinco De Mayo celebration. Volunteers worked day and night to convert the space, putting-on the finishing touches minutes before the doors opened at 4 p.m. on May 5, 1993. Only a few years later, with the museum having quickly outgrown its space and the future of the Livestock Exchange Building and surrounding stockyards in doubt, Garcia looked for a larger, more permanent site and found it in the former Polish Home at the corner of 25th & L, a fitting symbol for the changing makeup of South Omaha’s ethnic community. In Garcia’s mind it was providence that led her to the building, which, with its brick walls, red tile roof and U-shape design framing a courtyard, resembles a Spanish colonial structure. “It probably was meant to be,” she said.

She believes that when El Museo Latino opened in its new digs it became the first Latino art and history museum and cultural center in the Midwest.

The eclectic museum is a reflection of her wide interests in and deep feelings for Hispanic art. What it lacks in polish or panache it makes up for in serious presentations of textiles, pottery, carvings, paintings, drawings and photographs revealing the breadth and depth of a rich culture. “Hopefully, anyone who comes to the museum will get a little glimpse or flavor of how varied Latin American art is. It’s not one thing. It’s not just cactus and mariachi. It’s not just a Mexican thing. It’s a variety of periods, countries and styles,” she said. “The thing I’ve been most pleased with is sharing this diversity not just with our community, but with the rest of the community and sharing how WE see our culture rather than someone else translating it and telling us what our culture is.”

Finding a Niche
Garcia feels the museum is taking hold in the mostly Hispanic district. “I’ve noticed people taking more ownership. That this is ‘our museum’ versus, the first years, this is ‘Maggie’s museum,’ and that’s great. There’s more of a community embrace and it’s grown out of a collaborative effort. Our people look to see what’s happening here and the wider community looks to us to see what the Hispanic community is doing.”

 

 

 

With a broad mission of collecting and exhibiting Hispanic art from the Americas and developing education and outreach programs around all its displays, El Museo Latino has set ambitious goals. To date, it has acquired a small collection of textiles and objects and averaged eight exhibits per year. Garcia hopes to increase acquisitions and add more exhibits, but for now funds are earmarked for renovations to the turn-of-the-century building, including an overhaul of its outmoded electrical and plumbing systems, a major roof repair and the addition of an elevator and dock. Then attention will turn to fully conditioning the former social hall into museum quality classroom and gallery spaces.

To meet those needs and allow for the building’s purchase, the museum is three-quarters of the way to reaching a $1 million fund drive goal. Meanwhile, Garcia said museum-sponsored classes and workshops overflow with students learning paper cutting, weaving and mola-making. Traditional Mexican folk dancing classes are also popular. Garcia, a dancer herself, leads a youth performance dance troupe. Lectures and concerts draw well too. Combined attendance (for exhibits, classes, concerts, etc.) is also up — to 52,000 visitors last year from 17,000 three years ago.

While there is always a chance she will take one of those high-profile museum jobs she still gets offered, she’s not going anywhere soon. “I’ve made a commitment to see this museum take off and really get on solid ground. We’re still pretty new. There’s a lot of work yet to be done,” she said. Besides, she finds renewal in the endlessly rich veins of art she explores. “One of the things I find exciting is that there’s so much out there. It’s like, What do we want to exhibit this time? Every time we have something new it’s a learning process. That part keeps me fresh.”

El Museo Latino is currently presenting a traveling exhibition of Alebrijes, brightly colored wood carvings of fantastic animals from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The show continues through August. For more information, visit http://www.elmuseolatino.org or call 731-1137.

 

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