You wonâ€™t find Monet, Picasso or van Gogh lining the walls of El Museo. Looking into the galleryâ€™s windows at its location on Allen Street, you might however find a sight that is seldom seen in major galleries and studiosâ€”you just may find you see your own life reflected on the walls.
El Museo specializes in all types of minority artâ€”from Hispanic, African American and Asian to underrepresented groups in the community such as LGBT and elder art. Exhibited artists come not only from Western New York but from across the world. Presenting exhibits that reflect their own experiences, the artist attempts to take the observer away from how he or she may initially perceive something and transport them to another place.
The last exhibit at the gallery, Uganda: Children & War, photographs by Errol Daniels, was a collection of portraits of children affected by poverty, AIDS and genocide, and their struggle to survive and overcome these obstacles. Looking at the dozen pictures of wide-eyed African youth lining the walls at El Museo, there exists a dichotomy of the sorrow of the children and their deplorable conditions and the appreciation for our own standard of living.
â€śArt is as much education as it is entertainment,â€ť said Kitty Lambert, the galleryâ€™s manager. â€śToo often in life, we are given the formula, but not taught how to solve problems,â€ť she said. â€śArt always teaches.â€ť
El Museo had been a powerful art force in Buffalo long before it took its present home in Allentown. The organization began in 1978 with a group called Latino Artists Collective. Dr. Craig Centrie, current Executive Director of the gallery, was among the founding members thirty years ago. At that time, various artists of all different media came together to informally support one another and to create mixed art events in the city, from poetry sessions to exhibits in local homes, cafes and bars.
Juan Gonzales, a writer, was a leading inspiration toward the formation of the group. Gonzales acquired a store front on Hudson Street where the original members of the organization initially met for several months. Around 1980, a cry of "unfair" sparked action among the members of this group to bring minority artists to the forefront. With considerable attention being drawn to major galleries in the area, there was notice of the underrepresentation, and sometimes no representation at all of minority artists.
â€śWhen the curators of these exhibits were questioned why no one from these [minority] groups were included they responded by saying that there were no African American or Latino artists in the region,â€ť said Dr. Centrie. â€śThis of course was not true and encouraged the visual arts people from Latino Artists Collective to really mobilize and create what is now El Museo.â€ť
Shortly after, the city was in the process of completing the subway and showcasing art in the stations. Again, there was an underrepresentation of both minorities and local artists.
â€śEl Museo challenged this, and because of this very public challenge, a mosaic with a 3 person poem by Gonzales, Mendel and Cappas was created as an addition at the Allen Street Station,â€ť said Dr. Centrie. â€śThis was the formal beginning of El Museo.â€ť
After these two rather public challenges, the Burchfield-Penney Art Center created an exhibition called Latino Buffalo, which exhibited Buffalo's most prominent artists of the time. In 1981, El Museo was incorporated officially. For two years the gallery busily existed at 100 Grant Street, where back to back exhibitions were presented.
â€śMy kitchen table was El Museoâ€™s office for nearly 15 years,â€ť said Dr. Centrie. â€śAt the time of Juan's departure, the gallery essentially consisted of several boxes of files and records. It was very important to Juan that the gallery continue. I have done that for nearly 30 years. These boxes are still there in the gallery archives.â€ť
El Museo operated for many years as a gallery without a home after that, presenting exhibitions around the region. Today, El Museo has once again regained the permanence of fixed walls at its location at 91 Allen Street.
The current display at the gallery is one of the most anticipated reoccurring exhibits of the year. â€śDia de Los Muertosâ€ť or All Souls Day, opened on Halloween and will continue through November 29th. Celebrated in countries throughout the world, this traditional Mexican holiday is an honoring of the dead with altars created using objects such as photographs, food, drink and personal effects that were of importance to the deceased. Individual artists from across the country have designed altars that are on display at the gallery.
The gallery still has many more exhibits before the first of the year, including The Lighter Side: Cartoons by William Y. Cooper, presented by Just Buffalo on December 6th, and the annual Spirituality exhibit for the holidays, opening on December 12th and running through January 1st.
91 Allen Street
Buffalo, NY 14202