Art with an Edge

In the nation’s capital, the National Museum of the American Latino is still in the planning stages but in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the National Hispanic Cultural Center continues to grow, celebrate, and present Latino culture to the community, as it’s done for the past nine years.

“We offer a venue for people to glimpse and experience the best of Hispanic art and culture,” offers interim director Danny Lopez. “People have a natural curiosity so we encourage them to come here and learn something new as well as enjoy the art. It’s an affordable and entertaining way to spend time.”

With three-fourths of its construction complete—only a landscaping project remains—the Center boasts a museum, three performance theaters, a dance studio, a genealogy center, library, and education facility.

Currently on display in the 6,000-square-foot museum---next to the permanent collection---is Meso-Americhanics (Maneuvering Mestizaje) de la Torre Brothers and Border Baroque, featuring intricate, blown glass and mixed media works by two Mexican brothers, Einar and Jamex de la Torre, based in Tijuana, Mexico.

“I think it’s one of the most provocative exhibits we’ve had at the center to date,” says Clara Apodaca, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Cultural Center Foundation, which raises more than $2 million a year to pay for programming. “It’s kind of pop art but each piece is so different, so creative, and some are even outrageous, but every piece has a special meaning,” she adds. The exhibit will be on view through August 16.

The idea for the center came from three community leaders—Loretta Armenta, president of Qwest-New Mexico, former ambassador Ed Romero, and Edward Lujan, president of the Manuel Lujan Agency—who formed the foundation in the 1980s. It gained momentum when the state legislature approved $13.5 million for construction from 1993–1998. The federal government chipped in with $17.9 million and the city eventually contributed the 52 acres of land upon which the center is built.

With the operation and maintenance budget supplied by the state and programming support from the foundation and the onsite tienda and restaurant, the center presents a model for success that remains unique among cultural centers. In nine years, it has presented 500 productions, accumulated an art collection of 2,500 pieces, and welcomed more than 200,000 visitors.

“We really have to attribute our success to our first organizers. They set the model that we would focus on quality over quantity,” asserts Apodaca. “Today, all of our program directors remain dedicated to presenting the best examples of Latino art and culture in the country.”

Currently developing a $10 million endowment for the center, the foundation will hold a fundraising gala in September before the opening of its next exhibit, a collection of works from Cuba.

Valerie Menard