The Hispanic and Latino population is the second-largest ethnic group in the United States yet according to a 2019 study on the diversity of artists in museum collections in eighteen major U.S. art museums, only 2.8 percent are Hispanic or Latinx. The Latinx cultural effect on our underlying national identity can be felt in various ways—turn on your radio for beats from beyond our borders or treat your tastebuds to a local “Taco Tuesday,” but we often do not see ourselves represented in museums beyond Frida (Kahlo). Unless you are seeking out institutions like El Museo del Barrio, The Mexican Museum, or the forthcoming National Museum of the American Latino, exhibitions like Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985, or the newly opened Calderón Ruiz Gallery, you are likely to miss Latinx representation. That is where digital strategist Karen Vidangos is attempting to fill the gaps with the Latinx Art Collective.
The digital database aims to be the place to promote yourself as a Latinx US-based artist and therefore the place to go if you are interested in supporting Latinx artists. As the Collective states, “Latinx art is American art.” It’s long overdue that Latinx artists be included in the canon of creatives that have contributed to how we see the world and ourselves. We are so pleased to introduce you to Karen and the journey that took her to her new project, and we hope you enjoy exploring (or joining!) the online collective.
Can you tell us about yourself and what you do?
I am on a 6-month detail working with the Smithsonian as social media strategist for their new initiative, “Our Shared Future: Reckoning with Our Racial Past” then I go back to my home base doing social media for the National Portrait Gallery.
I’ve been in the museum field for almost a decade starting out as a museum shop manager at the National Museum of Asian Art and the National Museum of African Art.
I grew up in a home of musicians so loving art was effortless. The hard part was building a career out of it, so it’s still a little bit surreal for me looking back and seeing where I am now.
What is the Latinx Art Collective?
The Latinx Art Collective is the first nationwide database exclusively for US Latinx artists.
Where did the idea come from?
Over the past five years, I’ve thought a lot about how I could contribute to the Latinx community in the art and museum world. I’m not an art historian, I’m not a gallerist or a curator, but I know and understand the digital environment and wanted to put a spotlight on the Latinx art community using my experience as a digital strategist.
How do you imagine the database being used?
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LAC is open to hundreds of Latinx artists across the nation and accessible to anyone interested in Latinx art.
I want curators, educators, collectors, anyone with an interest in Latinx art to connect with these artists. If you are someone looking to commission a work, need a guest speaker for a panel, want to begin your Latinx art collection, LAC is where you can begin your search.
Has the recent reckoning with inequity in cultural institutions impacted the creation of LAC?
It has. For a while, I felt a lot of imposter syndrome. I thought, “Nobody asked for this, and nobody asked you to do it.” But I spent a big part of my museum career thinking about equity in the field for people of color and wondering how I could contribute. I didn’t want to build my career in a vacuum.
When I started to see groups of museum workers across the country demand better from their institutions and making headlines, I knew a big shift was happening and that I had to push forward; imposter syndrome be damned.
What do you hope the audience takes away from the LAC - both the Latinx and non-Latinx audience?
My hope is that anyone interested in Latinx art finds LAC to be a simple yet useful tool to search for and support Latinx artists. It’s just about connecting the audience to artists.
How has your work as a digital strategist influenced your work with LAC?
Given that LAC is a purely digital project, my work as a digital strategist informed every aspect of how I thought through bringing LAC to life. Being thoughtful about user experience, brand voice, design, and more, I sought to create an accessible space that is free to use and easy to navigate.
My personal faves are @latinx.arthistory where you get to learn about Latinx artists of the past and present. It is like taking an art history class on Instagram. I love Sandra Riaño (@localmujer) who is a brilliant historian with a focus on Latinx photography. I’m also excited to see Calderón Ruiz Gallery’s account, @_calderon_ruiz_, grow. They are a New York gallery that recently opened with a focus on Latin American artists and the diaspora.
Lastly, follow the National Portrait Gallery (@smithsoniannpg)! I’m not currently at the Portrait Gallery, but in my time there, it was a priority to highlight the many people of color in the collection who have contributed to U.S. history and culture.