El Museo del Barrio in New York. Photo: William Alatriste.

Activists Call for Sweeping Change at El Museo del Barrio

Around a dozen activists staged a protest inside New York’s El Museo del Barrio on Tuesday, as the institution participated in the forty-first annual Museum Mile Festival, in an attempt to raise awareness about the East Harlem community’s growing concerns about the museum’s trajectory. The demonstrators claim that El Museo del Barrio is out of touch with its roots and are demanding institutional change.

During the action, protesters read from the “Mirror Manifesto,” an open letter that has been signed by more than five hundred arts professionals since it began circulating in March. The letter claims that El Museo del Barrio is turning into an elitist institution that prioritizes Latin American art and no longer reflects the community that founded it. “It is timely and necessary for El Museo del Barrio to rededicate itself to its unique mission of exhibiting and collecting art by Puerto Ricans and Latin Americans living in the United States—in other words, that it focuses on Latinx art and artists,” the letter reads. It also criticizes the museum’s failure to launch a residency program, the lack of diversity of its staff and board, and its programming.

The demonstrators moved through the galleries chanting “We will not be erased” and “Decolonize the museum!” Yasmin Ramírez, a curator and former El Museo del Barrio board member, told Artnews that the Queens Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art are doing a better job of exhibiting Latinx artists than El Museo del Barrio.

Following the release of the open letter, El Museo del Barrio told Artforum that it was working on a number of initiatives to address some of the issues cited by the activists. It plans to hire a Latinx curator, a newly created staff position, and is developing new programs. A statement issued by the museum, in part, read: “In doing so, we will strengthen and advance our advocacy role, nurture professionals in Latinx art, and foster the growth of artists at all stages of their careers, especially emerging artists.”