Museology Master of Arts Program

May 11, 2018

Calaveras & Conversations: Leading Spanish Tours at Bellevue Arts Museum

AUTHOR: Pamela Maldonado, Class of 2018

La Catrina mural, Bellevue Arts Museum

La Catrina mural, Bellevue Arts Museum

Last year, I attended the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) conference in St. Louis, Missouri and learned about a Spanish led family program for toddlers that takes place at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, Illinois. I was blown away by their program that seeks to bring in early learners and their adults to look at art together and participate in activities. I knew in that moment that I wanted to make my Museology master’s thesis research topic somehow related to that type of programming. As a bilingual, first-generation Colombian immigrant, it was so exciting to see a museum program incorporating Spanish with the intent to serve young visitors. Ultimately, this started me on a journey to explore museums doing this work around language, identity, Latinx visitors to museums, and best practices. My thesis research is Hablemos de Arte: Bilingual Spanish/English Family Programs in Art Museums.

Recently, the Bellevue Arts Museum reached out to me about developing Spanish language programming for their temporary exhibition, José Guadalupe Posada and the Mexican Penny Press. Posada (1852-1913) was a Mexican artist that has greatly influenced twentieth century Mexican artists, especially mural artists. His imagery is full of political satire, everyday life, and calaveras (skulls). His most famous work, La Catrina, has been replicated and continues to be associated with Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

•Detail of Calavera de los patinadores (Street Sweeper’s Calavera), José Guadalupe Posada, Broadside: letterpress, relief print, N.D. Image courtesy The Trout Gallery

Detail of Calavera de los patinadores (Street Sweeper’s Calavera), José Guadalupe Posada, Broadside: letterpress, relief print, N.D. Image courtesy The Trout Gallery

When I was approached about leading Spanish language tours, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to put into practice all the things that I have been reading, learning, and thinking about both for my thesis and in the Museology program. I was hired on to design, translate, and facilitate a family tour, a high school tour, and an adult tour. As part of the tour, I also collaborated with the education team at the museum to come up with an art activity and board game inspired by Posada’s artwork. This experience has provided me with an opportunity to make inquiry-based and participatory experiences for tour attendees, creating conversations around the art that  connects to their everyday lives.

Don Quixote mural, Bellevue Arts Museum

Don Quixote mural, Bellevue Arts Museum

It was an honor to be able to welcome visitors in Spanish and provide a different experience within the galleries. By having the tours in Spanish, it provided folks a chance to hear the history of the art, and to analyze and unpack the artwork together in their native tongue or in the language that they are learning. A lot of what I have been thinking about is the fact that language holds so much power. By having visitors speak in a different language, it is providing them a voice, both literally and figuratively in the space. I aim to continually work to re-imagine how spaces can be welcoming and inclusive for visitors that are not part of the English dominant society. It is a museum trend because of the changing demographics of the United States, but it also aligns with my personal values. I feel fortunate to be able to enact these strides through research and practice and hope to continue to work with museums to do bilingual education.