Latinx Heritage Month (LHM) is celebrated every year from September 15 to October 15 across the globe. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, New College kicked off LHM with a virtual museum exhibiting photography and visual work from students and artists in the Sarasota area. Although the shared space of viewing artwork is now remote, virtual museums propose an innovative alternative to audience engagement.
“We did something similar last year—but it was behind Ham—and some students submitted their art,” Professor Hugo-Viera Vargas explained. “We wanted to do it again this year, but virtually. I asked Gabriella Ott who is [a] third-year Psychology and Spanish AOC—she used ArtSteps to curate the work of students in the Latinx community.”
The museum is divided into two rooms showcasing work from New College students and artists from across the country. The website Art Steps allows visitors to easily click through an online gallery situated in a park that resembles the bayfront. The pieces are displayed banner-style with explanations and artists’ biographies.
Another goal of the gallery was to remind viewers to question their own presumptions of identity when engaging in Latinx art through its curation of varied media and subject matter of Latinx life and craft.
“I want people to appreciate the art but also see the diversity that exists in the Latinx community,” Viera-Vargas said. “Specifically, the different ways it means to be Latinx. And that they don’t have to constantly speak or express their identity in their artwork. Sometimes we like to put a label of the artist and relate it back to the label, and sometimes artists are just artists.”
Professor of Anthropology Uzi Baram interpreted virtual art spaces in the broader trend of museums striving to decolonize, democratize and “open up possibilities for socially meaningful displays and exhibits.”
“One route is virtual exhibits: online presentations that can be readily accessible, engaged, and dynamic,” Baram wrote in an email interview. “Whether art museums creating exhibits that allow the visitor to virtually enter a painting or the Smithsonian Institution offering free downloads from its collections for 3D printing (for instance, the Calusa figurine), the technology offers new opportunities for rethinking how to remember peoples, places, and things and to engage the storehouse of human creativity to meet the current and coming challenges.”
The transition to virtual museums has made all the difference in keeping Latinx Heritage Month alive. The exhibition seamlessly reminds students of the everyday happenings and ideas of Hispanic populations from artists across the east coast and showcases Latinx student artists.
The exhibition is accompanied with other events throughout the month, partially funded by the Connecting Arts and Humanities from the Mellon Grant. For example,The Sarasota Contemporary Dance Company hosted LatinFusion classes for students, Professor Jose Martinez and visiting artist Renesito led music workshops and the visiting artists hosted virtual panels.
The gallery is open until October 15th via ArtSteps.