By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer
Dr. Lourdes I. Ramos-Rivas arrived at the Museum of Latin American Art at an auspicious moment in its 22-year history, and in her own. To become the museum’s new director, the native of Puerto Rico left behind a homeland poised to be hit by a catastrophic hurricane. Meanwhile, a triumphant exhibition, Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago, was just opening at MOLAA. The connection signified a positive omen. Relational Undercurrents, curated by Tatiana Flores, was arguably the highlight of the 2017-2018 PST LA/LA exhibitions, a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art.
In her first year, Ramos has shown that she is well prepared for the position she filled. She came to the museum with a vast resume that included 12 years as the director and chief curator at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. She is also an accreditation commissioner for the American Alliance of Museums, which is how she first came to the attention of the board at MOLAA. She is the first Latina to hold the post.
Ramos is focused on bringing concrete progress to MOLAA, which has struggled to establish credibility since its founding in 1996. After years of adhering to a rigorous process the museum was finally accredited by the American Alliance of Museums in 2016.
Carrying forth the initial success of the Relational Undercurrents exhibit, Ramos has arranged for the show to travel to four other museums this — Walach Art Gallery in New York City, Florida International University in Miami, Portland Art Museum in Maine and the Delaware Art Museum.
“We have worked hard to [share] the values of Latin American art, also different aspects of the culture, including music, food and design,” Ramos said recently during an interview with Random Lengths News.
Many in the art world are starting to take note of the museum’s new direction. A notable milestone in donor support for MOLAA was achieved with a bequest valued at $1 million from the estate of Dr. Michael E. Brown, a committed arts patron and lifelong resident of Long Beach. The museum also received several important art donations in 2017, including, most notably, Camilo Ontiveros’ Pink Lady Kenmore Dryer (2009), which was donated by art collector, actor and comedian Steve Martin, a former student at CSULB. Add to this a significant partnership forged with noted Chicano art collector Cheech Marin and MOLAA shows the maturity of a real Los Angeles art institution.
Outside the walls of the museum, Ramos believes that MOLAA must be a vital part of the local community.
“I would like to see the museum drive values for the community—to be a facilitator for the community,” Ramos said.
Towards this goal, she has created collaborations and partnerships with several Long Beach arts institutions. MOLAA now boasts two murals on the external walls of the building which were created by the international street art group Pow Wow! One mural (appropriately) covers the wall that was used for many years to present Gregorio Luke’s popular Murals Under the Stars lectures. The world-renowned Long Beach Opera performed Frida in the outdoor setting of the sculpture garden, while in the galleries the museum displayed Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray. The museum also welcomed a new tenant on their campus, Leadership Long Beach, which has mentored civic leaders since 1989. Partnerships with the Long Beach Aquarium and the Arts Council for Long Beach are ongoing.
The proof of Ramos’ efforts is in the numbers. Attendance was up 40 percent in 2017. This includes 6,175 school children who received tours and art workshops, and 200 teachers who were trained during educator nights.
“For me, it is a priority,” Ramos declared. “I don’t see how the museum can serve the community without these alliances. We believe strongly in community engagement.”
In August 2018, MOLAA will present another history-making exhibition with Judith Hernandez: A Dream is the Shadow of Something Real. Hernandez was a founding member of the Chicano Art/Los Angeles mural movement. She will be the first Latina to have a solo show at MOLAA.
Venue: Museum of Latin American Art, 628 S. Alamitos Ave., Long Beach
Hours: Wed. Fri. Sat. Sun. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thurs. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Cost: $10 General admission. $7 Students and Seniors
Details: (562) 437-1689 or molaa.org
Editor’s Note: Writer Andrea Serna was the membership manager at the Museum of Latin American Art from 2000-2008.