Latinos are a growing population, and their booming numbers are evident in large cities of the Southwest. As they become the majority ethnic group population in some of America’s major cities, such as Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and El Paso, Latinos look to a new era when their culture and arts are given greater value and exposure. In these major cities, the majority of Latino residents are of Mexican descent.
Art is good for the mind and soul. Several years ago I found an interesting article in the New York Times with the headline, “Going to Museums May Be Good for Your Health.” Art reporter, Maria Cramer, cited a British study that found that “simply being exposed to the arts may help people live longer.” British researchers “also noted that engaging in the arts can reduce loneliness, promote empathy and emotional intelligence, and keep people from becoming sedentary–all factors that contribute to a longer life.”
Thus, research suggests that visiting museums can add years to our lives. However, Latinos of all ages fall short of visiting the majority of our best museums. My wife Harriett and I recently visited seven museums in New York City, and three months earlier we visited six major museums in Los Angeles. We went away disappointed at the lack of Latino museum visitors in both cities. With some exceptions, the Eli Broad Museum in downtown Los Angeles which is free, and the Cheech Marin Museum in Riverside which features Chicano/a art, there were few Latinos in attendance. The Broad Museum, had good Latino attendance on weekends, while the Los Angeles County Museum [LACMA], which charged 15 dollars per person, had only a few Latino visitors. Of the seven museums in New York, only one museum, The Museum of Modern Art [MOMA], displayed work by a Chicano artist–Yolanda Lopez of San Diego, California. The Getty Museum in Los Angeles featured a beautiful large painting by Judy Baca, but that was the only piece by a Chicano or Chicana artist that we saw in that prestigious museum.
Latinos are now the majority population in the large Southwestern states of California [39.0%], Texas [40.2%], and New Mexico [49.2%]. Latinos’ absence of leadership
positions in the arts leaves much work to be done. That is why the designation by the El Paso Museum of Art of Edward Hayes as their new Director is significant. Hayes is of Mexican ancestry and is a highly qualified art leader raised in Texas. He may well be the sole Latino of Mexican descent serving as a museum director in these three states that boast of a Latino majority population.
Edward “Eddie” Hayes moved to Texas at age seven when his family relocated from Virginia to San Antonio in 1993. His father’s work with the U.S. State Department required numerous U.S. embassy assignments across the globe. By age ten, Eddie had lived in Quito, Ecuador, and Dhaka, Bangladesh where his father was stationed. The family traveled frequently to Mexico, the birthplace of his mother. He has fond memories of sitting at the central plaza of Jaumave, Tamaulipas as a young boy drawing and selling his artwork for five pesos.
As a high school student, Hayes spent hours honing his two major passions, art and baseball. He dreamed of
one day playing in the major leagues and during his senior year arranged to travel on the weekends to Piedras Negras, across the U.S. border from Eagle Pass to play minor league baseball. Playing baseball in Mexico enabled Hayes to strengthen his language skills and contributed to a broader understanding of Mexican culture and traditions.
After applying and being accepted at the
prestigious Art Institute of Chicago, Hayes realized he had the “soul of an artist.” He considers his educational experience at the Art Institute “life-changing.” He returned to San Antonio in 2008 enrolling in the Art History program at UTSA. He credits Teresa Eckmann as a model professor. She recommended him for a temporary teaching post in the UTSA Art Department where he taught briefly before leaving San Antonio for several art posts outside of the state.
Over the next 15 years, Hayes gained experience in the curatorial and exhibition management field. His work in Los Angeles at the Museum of Latin American Art [MOLAA]; at the International Arts & Artists [IA&A] in Washington, D.C.; and at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio provided excellent preparation for his current position. His new post at the El Paso Museum of Art will be challenging, but he brings wide experience and excellent knowledge of the arts to the museum.
Other Texas Latinos are gaining prominence in the arts as well. Rigoberto Luna of San Antonio, Texas is a highly successful Latino gallery co-owner, curator of city-sponsored exhibits, and full-time employee at the San Antonio Museum of Art.
Luna is a first-generation native of San Antonio. Both of Luna’s parents were born in Mexico, and for a short time during his early childhood, his family resided in Monterrey, Mexico. Throughout his youth, Luna lived on a
small ranch outside the city of San Antonio. His dad rode horses and raised food crops for the household. Luna, the youngest of six children, attended Catholic schools in the city for his early education and finished his senior year at Southwest High School in the San Antonio Southside.
At age 15, Luna joined a community mural arts program at the San Anto Cultural Arts in the Westside of San Antonio. He knew at that moment that his first love
was art. Over the next four years, he painted several murals as a team member and earned a lead artist post at age 19. While working on the San Anto mural project, Luna met many of the city’s top Chicano muralists, including Rubio and Adan Hernandez.
Luna’s art career underwent a major transformation in 2000 when he moved to New York City to attend the Pratt Institute. While at Pratt, Luna focused on design, in particular website design. He remained in New York City for seven years taking full advantage of the great opportunities and experiences that the city offered in design and culture.
Luna returned to San Antonio in 2007 and joined the staff of the city’s new Museo Alameda. His work at the Museo included website design and social media networking. While working for the Museo, Luna
reconnected with the San Anto Cultural Arts muralists and organized a mural show featuring Rubio and Cruz Ortiz.
By 2013 Luna had organized several exhibitions in abandoned warehouses in downtown San Antonio. Then he decided to start an art gallery. This art initiative became the Presa House Gallery in 2016. He was joined by Janelle Esparza as co-owner two years later. Over the last ten years, Presa House has exhibited 285 working artists and 72 student artists.
It is a rare occurrence for a Latino exhibition in San Antonio to get national coverage. Luna curated the sensational 2023 show, Soy de Tejas, which managed to attract very positive reviews in Forbes, Texas Monthly, Glasstire, and more. Chadd Scott of Forbes wrote of the exhibit: “Spreading out across 20,000 square feet inside San Antonio’s cavernous Centro de Artes Gallery, “Soy de Tejas: A Statewide Survey of Latinx Art” conveys a vision matching the grandeur of its home state.” Luna sought out Latino artists from all corners of the state selecting 40 native Tejanos. The exhibit includes 100 contemporary works. Scott noted that the “exhibition attempts–and succeeds–at reflecting the diverse and beautiful complexity of Latinx identities.”
Jessica Fuentes of Glasstire began hearing about the gathering of works for the exhibit two years before the opening of Soy de Tejas. “I was overwhelmed by the breadth of the exhibition,” Fuentes wrote, “which includes artists working in a variety of mediums and from all of the far-flung regions of the state.” Fuentes brought her family to the show and commented that “such an expansive exhibition representing the diversity of Latinx art and artists is rare in Texas.”
Michael Agresta of Texas Monthly also offered a glowing review commenting that Luna is “a keen observer of the state’s various art scenes, conversant in the value systems of both the status-conscious international art world and the grassroots creative communities of places like Laredo, Corpus Christi, and the Rio Grande Valley, where his gallery has built strong connections.”