Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! We here at SITES take great pride in working to expand museum access and engagement for Latinos across the nation, and this month we want to highlight great Latino museum professionals from the SITES family who are making a difference across the country. Today, we're introducing Alma Catalán, a great talent this summer as she completed her Latino Museum Studies fellowship, talking about her experiences that drew her to SITES and her goals in the museum field:
Hello, my name is Alma Catalán and this summer I had the opportunity to be a part of the Latino Museum Studies Program, based out of the Smithsonian Latino Center and completed a four-week practicum at Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). I am also an arts management student at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California, and a Latinx, who is still overcoming adversity while pursuing a career in the arts.
I have always been interested in the arts. However, the arts were far beyond my reach as a young girl. I grew up in Boyle Heights, a community historically populated by immigrants, where art programs were not implemented in our local schools and community centers. The only programs available were far beyond the reach of my family’s income and they have located far away from my family’s apartment. When I became a college student, mentorship finally gave me access to the arts.
Having opportunities to explore the arts has been eye opening! But it also made me understand the harsh reality that it would not be easy. The key ingredient for me has been finding mentors who are passionate about arts and learning from them. Up to this point in my life, my accomplishments would not be possible without the support of all my mentors. My career has taken me from working on film sets, theater productions, to working with a college access program and now completing a Master of Arts in arts management. How does it all connect? Working with youth allows me share my experiences and inspire and support the next generation of artists, curators, art historians, and the list can go on. And the work doesn’t end here; I also like to lead by example and getting the education and experience needed in the field is critical. When I applied for the #LMSP2016 fellowship, I knew right away I wanted to be at SITES. I chose this practicum because I believe in their mission statement, which is to create access and to start conversations at all levels, among communities and individuals that otherwise wouldn’t have them. Most importantly, they want to do more than just put together exhibits, - "SITES’ presence changes lives, institutions, and communities” (from their mission statement). Similarly, my personal mission is to provide a space for Latinx artists to share their untold stories of navigating in a bicultural world and help them create bridges to different communities. By doing so, it offers a new perspective and alternative point of view about the American experience.
During my time at SITES, my new mentor the amazing Maria del Carmen Cossu, Project Director for Latino Initiatives at SITES did not hesitate to share her expertise with me from day one. Among many other things, I learned how to develop a traveling exhibit from the beginning stages to the end. I knew four weeks would not be enough time, but the experience has been life changing. My biggest takeaway? A new set of mentors that will help me get to my next destination and for that, I’m forever grateful. I would like to thank everyone at the Smithsonian Latino Center and SITES for allowing me to explore, learn, and advance my career goals. As I move forward in my career in the field of museum education, I would like to see more mentorship opportunities for people of color. To read more about my practicum research on how museums are engaging with Latinxs, please read my blog takeover with the Smithsonian Latino Center.