7 In Your Neighborhood: National Museum of Mexican Art

March 24, 2012 9:00:48 PM PDT
The country's largest Latino cultural center is celebrating a major milestone. The National Museum of Mexican Art is turning 25.

For our ABC7 In Your Neighborhood segment, we traveled south to Pilsen to check out one of the nation's most comprehensive collections of Mexican art.

Remarkable sculptures and distinctive paintings are among more than 7,000 works of art that call the National Museum of Mexican Art home. But offerings haven't always been so extensive. The Pilsen institutution began in 1987 with just a small collection of prints and big ambitions.

"The museum actually started with a bunch of Chicago Public School teachers who saw a lot of kids slipping through the cracks not knowing much about the culture from which they came and with a very small budget," said Rebecca Meyers, permanent collection curator.

Education has remained central to the museum's mission.

"We always make sure that with every wonderful exhibition that we have, we program art classes, workshops, open houses, courses and tie to our school programs all the beautiful themes that you see on display in our exhibition, such as El Alma De La Fiesta," said Nancy Villafranca-Guzman, director of the education department.

El Alma De La Fiesta, which translates as :"the life of the party," is one of four exhibitions currently on display. It pays homage to numerous Mexican celebrations on both sides of the border, showcasing items such as these 12-foot-tall puppets often used during Carnivale and Holy Week. At an afterschool art program, students depicted their favorite celebrations. A crowd favorite is Independence Day.

"Every year on the Fourth of July, I spend it with my grandma and my dad and my aunts and my cousins," said Erick Corral, 8.

The program is just one of several that promotes education and conversation about Mexican culture.

"There's two and a half generations of people now in Chicago who have grown up with this museum, getting to know our closest neighbor to the south of us who is now our neighbor down the street," Meyers said.

Sunday from noon to 3 p.m., the museum is hosting its birthday party. There will be a number of interactive activities available, including face painting and a "gallery hunt" to find hidden gems around the museum. As always, admission is free.