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NHCC, the most-visited museum in NM, seeks higher profile

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal


The Torreon flanks the entrance to the National Hispanic Cultural Center. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

For 17 years, the National Hispanic Cultural Center has worked to accomplish its goal of preserving, promoting and advancing Hispanic culture, arts and humanities.

But with “national” in the name, the center has also been working to become a player at that level. And now it is a leader, especially when attendance is considered.

The New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs reports that during the last fiscal year, the NHCC campus had 226,793 visitors – up from 189,933 in fiscal year 2016 – making it the most visited state museum for the first time since its inception.

When compared with similar institutions in much larger metropolises, the local Hispanic center – which features fine art and sculpture galleries, three theaters, a restaurant, a large plaza for outdoor events and educational and genealogical research components – is drawing much larger crowds.

According to The Museums Council of New York City, El Museo del Barrio’s 2016 attendance was about 200,000 visitors. The museum was founded in 1969 and is located on Fifth Avenue at 104th Street in NYC.

In recent years, that museum has flourished. A few years ago, the museum slashed its days of operation and instituted layoffs and furloughs because of financial problems.

In Chicago, both the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture and the National Museum of Mexican Art saw attendance gains in 2016. But they attracted just 25,000 and 165,000 visitors, respectively.

And at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, Calif., attendance in its gallery grew by 3,000 in 2016 to a total of 44,331 visitors.


(Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The NHCC’s profile as a resource is rising nationally as well, with outreach going well beyond the state’s borders.

“Our goal is to collaborate with other museums,” said Rebecca Avitia, NHCC executive director. “Our delay in collaborating wasn’t until our realization that we are a player on the national level.”

For instance, Tey Marianna Nunn, visual arts program director, is curating artist Luis Tapia’s upcoming solo exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago on Oct. 27.

Avitia said the collaboration on this exhibit makes perfect sense because Tapia is a New Mexico artist.

“The museum is looking to our expertise for the curation of the exhibit,” she said. “We’re really proud to be a full-fledged colleague on this level. We’re hoping to reach the next level.”

The NHCC has collaborated with the with National Museum of Mexican Art in the past, when “The House on Mango Street: Artists Interpret Community” opened in April 2016. The NHCC was the second institution to display the exhibit, which now tours nationwide. It was curated by Cesário Moreno, who is the director of visual arts and chief curator at the National Museum of Mexican Art.

With interest in Hispanic and Latino culture growing on a national level, Avitia said the time is right for the NHCC to focus on stability for the center.

“We need to shore up our approach to earned revenue and expand the base of our donors,” she said.


Birds fly above the Barbara Richardson Plazuela at National Hispanic Cultural Center on Thursday. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Avitia credits the NHCC staff for the recent gains.

“Without exception, every employee here carries the equivalent of four positions,” she said. “We don’t have the luxury of a year to plan anything. It’s certainly been difficult, but we feel like we’ve arrived on the national scene.”

Looking forward, Avitia wants to find ways to collaborate more with the other museums having similar mission within Hispanic culture.

“There will be a shift,” Avitia said. “We don’t want to duplicate. In order to get to the next level and the transition to stabilize, everything has to be deliberate.”