The Museo Alameda is all about us — Latinos and those interested in Latino culture. The pink lady on Commerce Street is new, hip, sexy — and in trouble. Revenue and attendance goals are not meeting initial expectations. How could this have happened? This is Latino Land — home of the Southwest Voter Research Project and author Sandra Cisneros.
It has been widely reported that last month Mayor Phil Hardberger went around city protocol to grant the museum more than $300,000 in tourism-generated arts dollars this year and next `See “Cutting out the CAB,” October 24-30`. The Mayor said that this museum is too important to fail. The museum is now trying to offer free admission to people who are not coming. It is time for a reality check.
Does anybody really believe that tourists from Iowa are going to be drawn to the Museo Alameda over the margaritas at Mi Tierra? The latter is also our culture — the Christmas lights, the busy waiters, the musicians, the sweet rolls, and the red-hot enchiladas. We, the people, are the culture to be savored, our endless festivals, our parties, the rallies, and the crazy parades. Of course, it is also La Villita, Market Square, and the Missions. Why should they come to this museum?
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Every great institution is the lengthened shadow of a single man. His character determines the character of the organization.” The “shadow” of the Museo Alameda is Henry Muñoz III, the founder, visionary, and driving force behind the museum since 1991. I have never met Mr. Muñoz, but I certainly admire his passion and energy. It is this shadow that may be hindering the museum right now.
A former Museo Alameda staffer told me in a recent phone interview that Mr. Muñoz runs the museum like an “emperor.” In my humble opinion, a division of the Smithsonian Museum that is being funded with our city tax dollars needs a captain who strives to lead in a manner that is open, democratic, and accommodating to those who may not be affluent, politically connected, or part of the cultural elite. “We the people” can make wonderful things happen when we have a place at the table.
Mr. Munoz gave us a pretty pink Cadillac that needs gas. We are that fuel. There needs to be a bold strategy at the Museo Alameda to reach out to every segment of this community. San Antonio is a town made up of factions, clans, groups, distinctive municipalities, neighborhood associations, and political bosses (real and imagined). Each one of these entities and leaders needs to know why they should be active participants and supporters of this new institution.
Think about this for a moment: We went to the grand opening of the Museo Alameda, but we have not been back. The directors of this museum have a big challenge on their hands. They need to give us a compelling reason to support this new institution that the Texas legislature has named the “official State Latino Museum.” Bribing us with free admission is a short-term solution.
The San Antonio Children’s museum on Houston Street charges $7 per adult. Families are coming.The San Antonio Museum of Art charges $8 per person. This museum is active and growing. The Witte Museum on Broadway charges $7 per person. They have lines to get in every weekend. These organizations have given us a reason to come year after year.
Generation-X types (I’m one of them) now have small children who need to be entertained and educated. The Witte Museum knows how to draw us in with dinosaur exhibitions and their wonderful “Arts and Crafts” afternoons. Do you remember the recent Botero exhibition? The San Antonio Museum of Art and the Southwest School of Art & Craft captivated us with the Colombian artist’s delightful work. We were like children in a candy store. Museo Alameda needs this kind of passion. The kind we will pay for.
I have faith in the pink lady on Commerce Street. She just needs to find a reason for us to embrace her. It is important that we want her to be part of our family. The simple fact is that she needs us more than we need her. Mr. Muñoz, it is all about winning our hearts and minds, and not free admission. Authentic outreach to all segments of this community and involvement at the grass-roots level will make this lady this most popular girl in town. It will also prevent her from becoming the pink elephant on Commerce Street. •