Smithsonian Latino Center
The Smithsonian Latino Center ensures Latino presence at the Smithsonian by supporting research, exhibitions, public and educational programs, online content, collections and archives, and publications that explore, present, preserve and celebrate the many and diverse contributions of U.S. Latinos in the humanities, sciences, culture, media and the arts. The Latino Center collaborates actively at the regional level and promotes a national dialogue on the role of museums and cultural centers in advancing Latino-community cultural development.
Below is a summary of ongoing programs and a sample of current projects supported by the Latino Center.
Leadership and Professional Development
Young Ambassadors Program is entering its 11th year as the Latino Center’s principal leadership development program, serving graduating high school Latina and Latino seniors interested in the arts, sciences and humanities, and following them through their college and professional careers. More than 203 students have completed this program, serving as ambassadors to their communities in 37 cities across 20 states in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The program also features a post-graduate seminar for ambassadors completing their undergraduate studies and an active alumni network.
Latino Museum Studies Program began in 1994 as a strategy to build a cadre of Latina and Latino museum professionals. This program has hosted emerging museum studies scholars and professionals in Washington, D.C., engaging fellows in ongoing Latino projects at the Smithsonian, thereby advancing their professional development. With nearly 300 program alumni, the Latino Center is building a diverse network of Latina and Latino museum professionals and scholars throughout the country.
Working Across the Smithsonian
Since 1995, the Latino Center has managed more than $21.6 million in federal funds through the Latino Initiatives Pool, supporting more than 480 Latino projects at the Institution, including research, exhibitions, public and educational programs, publications, collections and archives, and fellowships and internships. The pool has also supported the Latino Curatorial Initiative, which, since 2010, has placed eight Latino and Latina curators at different Smithsonian museums and its traveling exhibition service. Two additional curators will be placed in 2016.
Below is a listing of Latino content exhibits currently in Smithsonian museums or traveling to other venues nationwide. The Latino Center has provided financial support to each of these projects in various stages of their development.
“Portraiture Now: Staging the Self” presents the work of U.S. Latino artists who, through their work, show how identities are constructed and fluctuate. The exhibition, which opened at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in August 2014, features six contemporary Latina and Latino artists. “Staging the Self” will complete its run at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque March 27. Before that, the exhibition was presented at The Americas Society in New York City. It is part of the Gallery’s “Portraiture Now” series.
“One Life: Dolores Huerta” highlights the foundational role of labor leader Dolores Huerta in the 1960s and ’70s, with a particular focus on the development and struggle of the United Farm Workers union. This exhibition opened in July 2015 and is the 11th installment of the National Portrait Gallery’s “One Life” series. “Dolores Huerta” closes May 15 and will be repurposed as a traveling exhibition by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) beginning in 2017.
“Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art” opened at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in October 2013 and is currently on an eight-city tour through June 2017. It presents and interprets significant works from the museum’s pioneering collection of Latino Art. “Our America” is the first large-scale exhibit to explore the relationship between U.S. Latino Art as it emerged in the post-World War II era and the broader field of American Art. “Our America” is currently on view at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington through May 29. It will go next to the Allentown Art Museum in Pennsylvania, the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Fla., and complete its tour at the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, Tenn., from Feb. 17 to June 4, 2017.
“Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed” draws from more than 12,000 Central American ceramics pieces in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian’s collection to introduce visitors to the richness and complexity of Central America’s ancestral cultures. “Cerámica” spans the period from 1000 B.C. to the present. It opened at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington in March 2013 and is now on view at the museum’s George Gustav Heye Center in New York City through spring 2017.
“The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire” explores one of the most monumental engineering achievements in human history, a 20,000-mile network of roads connecting the vast Inka Empire. The road, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, continues to serve contemporary Andean communities. The exhibition is currently at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., through June 2018.
“Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942–1964” is a moving, bilingual exhibition that traces the experiences, many of them difficult, of Mexican guest workers (and their families) who provided much-needed manpower during peak harvest and industrial production times in more than 23 states in this country. “Bittersweet Harvest” opened at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in 2009, and, in 2010, was repurposed by the SITES. By the end of 2016, the exhibit will have been on view at 41 community museums, libraries and cultural centers in 20 states. It is scheduled to tour through 2017, making it one of the longest touring and most in-demand Smithsonian traveling exhibitions.
Education and Outreach
Education and Family—Annually, the Latino Center supports, co-sponsors and participates in multiple Latino-themed public and educational programs reaching hundreds of thousands of inter-generational visitors. These include Hispanic Heritage Month Family Days, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival and the National Zoo’s Fiesta Musical. In 2015, the Latino Center launched ¡Descubra! Meet the Science Expert, a family-oriented program series designed to promote STEM education and careers to Latino families and children. (STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.) The Latino Center produces these programs in collaboration with the Frost Museum of Science in Miami, Children’s Museum of Houston and The Tech Museum in San José.
Public Programs—Every year, the Latino Center offers a diverse sampling of Latino concerts, roundtable discussions, films and lectures serving tens of thousands of visitors. Examples include “Joe Bataan: The Afro-Filipino King of Latin Soul,” a roundtable and performance featuring a leading voice in this uniquely American musical genre; “Sharing Stories: Deaf Latino Experiences,” a panel on the experiences and contributions of this often overlooked segment of the Latino community; and “Paris is Burning,” a film screening and panel examining the lives of gay and transgender African American and Latino actors at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic (part of the Smithsonian’s new LGBT initiative).
Regional Outreach—The Latino Center is increasingly active outside the Beltway. In 2015, the Latino Center provided counsel and funding for “NUEVOlution: Latinos in the New South,” an exhibition exploring rapid demographic shifts in the South. The exhibition was organized by the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, N.C. After its run at the Levine, “NUEVOlution” will travel to the Atlanta History Center and Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama, institutions that collaborated in the exhibition’s development. SITES is exploring the development of a traveling version of the exhibition. The Latino Center staff is actively engaged with other regional projects. Examples include opening night speaker “El Movimiento: The Chicano Movement in Colorado,” at History Colorado in Denver; panelist at “Omaha Talks about Latinos & Art,” a community-based art exhibit and roundtable in Omaha, Neb.; and panelist at “Latinos in Baseball: From the Barrios to the Big Leagues” presentation and collecting initiative in San Bernardino, Calif.
Bilingual Resources—The Latino Centers offers a website and guides with activities for teachers and students to use throughout the year. Topics ranging from the musical rhythm of Andes to contributions from U.S. Latino war heroes are covered.
Internships—Annually, the Latino Center provides multiple internship opportunities for high school and college students at the Smithsonian and other cultural and science centers throughout the U.S., some of these connected to the aforementioned Young Ambassadors Program.
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Linda St. Thomas