El Museo del Barrio: Beyond the Canvas


“Culture has no influence on art.”

This was one of the more unique responses to the questions I posed to visitors exiting Las Galerías of El Museo del Barrio, Manhattan’s leading museum for “[presenting] and [preserving] the art and culture of Puerto Ricans and all Latin Americans in the United States” (El Museo). It was also one that sparked a debate between the art student that made this claim and the young student that accompanied him; a debate that went on for so long that I decided to move on and speak with other visitors while their low-volume quarrel continued in the normally quiet museum lobby. I had asked about the role of culture in the creation and dissemination of art. “Maybe people don’t think culture is so important after all,” I thought to myself. “At least not when discussing artwork.”

Although one student armed with a sketchbook and sporting ripped black jeans would disagree, the majority of museum-goers I interviewed believe that culture has a significant influence on the creation of art through all mediums. Most of them also agree that there is great opportunity in using art as a tool for education, though none of them could go into detail as far as how exactly that could be done. I wanted answers, so I decided to seek out the opinions of the curators and executive board of El Museo del Barrio. I was excited to learn from experts in the field about how culture is defined through art and how its presentation to the public can benefit immigrants. This goal turned out to be much more complicated than anticipated.

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Julian Tineo