EL MUSEO DE MI BARRIO: TURNING CLEVELAND NEIGHBORHOODS INTO MUSEUMS
Arts and culture organizations throughout the nation have had to get creative about how to continue their work through a pandemic, and Cleveland’s own Julia De Burgos Cultural Arts Center is no different. Located on Cleveland’s Near West side, Julia De Burgos’ mission is to transform lives by preserving, educating and promoting Latino heritage through the teaching and practice of the visual, performing and literary arts. And how are they transforming lives during a pandemic? By engaging emerging Latinx artists in a large-scale public art project.
El Museo de mi Barrio, “museum of my neighborhood,” is a project that helps artists from all over the nation scale up their work and expose it to Cleveland audiences. El Museo de mi Barrio is made possible by a Creative Fusion grant from the Cleveland Foundation. Creative Fusion brings “rapidly rising” artists from around the world to Cleveland for three-month partnerships with local community organizations.
Julia De Burgos took the directives of the Creative Fusion project and used them to benefit the Latinx community that they serve. According to Program Coordinator McKenzie Merriman, “So much of the culture of the community at Julia De Burgos isn’t seen in fine art museums, so really bringing the art museum out to the world where the people actually are was the goal.” El Museo de mi Barrio does this in two ways. In the first facet of the project, Julia De Burgos commissions new work from Latinx artists and then reproduces that work as large-scale public art installations. The first of these installations will be installed on West 25th Street and framed by wooden arches, harkening back to the framing of works in a museum. Rather than installing these works with permanent mural materials, these works will be created in vinyl so that they can be preserved and kept by the center or the artist.
The second facet of El Museo de mi Barrio is a fashion show and community engagement event representing the twenty-one Spanish-speaking countries in the world through twenty-one commissioned fashion pieces by artists from each of those backgrounds. However, because this aspect of the project is designed to include in-person gathering and international artists, the center has postponed its planning. “We don’t want to rush it, we don’t want to risk it, and we can start with these public art projects instead—those are a lot more manageable considering COVID,” says Merriman, who feels that they’ve learned a lot of lessons about how to pivot during the pandemic.
She also feels that this project is necessary to take on now. “We’ve seen a need for shared spaces—public spaces that community members can go to for resources, to feel seen or heard, be united and make money. So much of what we want to do is hire artists from the community we work with and make as many financial opportunities for those artists as possible and also be a place where they can imagine anything that they want.”
Merriman describes the upcoming public art as “bold and colorful works that brighten up grey Cleveland” and references the work of the first two artists who will be featured: Alicia Vasquez and Glori Feliciano. A local Afro-Latinx painter and muralist who has worked with Julia De Burgos on numerous occasions, Alicia Vasquez said she wanted to apply to the project because, “I wanted to have a voice in sharing my love and compassion for helping others through my art. And to give that back to the neighborhood. I also wanted to be a part of bringing the community together through beautifying it with art that creates positive change.” Vasquez’s work will be paired with that of Glori Feliciano, a San Diego artist with Brooklyn roots, who saw this project as another opportunity for the world to see her art and fall in love with it. When asked why she felt El Museo de mi Barrio was important, she responded, “It’s important as a Latina to be a part of everything that has to do with art. The climate we are living in right now—equality in every aspect is important. Art is color. Art is shades and shades of different perspectives.” Merriman echoes a similar sentiment and hopes that El Museo de mi Barrio will inspire Cleveland patrons to support artists making work that doesn’t get featured in Cleveland’s fine art shows. The public art portion of El Museo de mi Barrio will appear in neighborhoods all around Cleveland throughout the 2020-21 season.