Andrea Alvarez: A curator’s take on Hispanic heritage month and the art connection

By Michelle Kearns

Published on

When Andrea Alvarez was growing up as a new immigrant from Quito, Ecuador, she had no idea that the career she would eventually choose existed. Now as associate curator at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, she believes that taking the time to celebrate people of Hispanic heritage in the weeks ahead is a great opportunity for programming and to get the word out about all the different things people can do with their lives.

“We’re thinking about Hispanic Heritage Month six months ahead of time, just like we’re thinking about the other months of the year, like Black History Month,” said Alvarez. “Of course, for me Hispanic Heritage Month also carries special meaning because it’s a moment when I get to celebrate my own heritage and see that my own legacy and history is represented and celebrated at my place of work, which feels important.”

Andrea Alvarez with Firelei Báez’s Chorus of the Deep, 2023. Photo: Jeff Mace for the Buffalo AKG Art Museum

At the newly re-opened Buffalo AKG Art Museum, plans for the month include live bands, performances, and drop-in art workshops.  Art in the collection by Hispanic and Latinx artists – Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and Venezuelan-American sculptor Marisol are two possibilities — will also be highlighted.

And, this year, the museum tribute to Hispanic heritage will carry on months after the official month of recognition ends mid-October.  Alvarez has curated an exhibit by the Mexican-American artist Narsiso Martinez, known for his portrayals of agricultural workers — from December 1 to April 22.

Martinez is an artist who is also a farmworker.  He “paints these portraits of his fellow farmworkers on reclaimed cardboard boxes that are the produce boxes that you would get your apples and peaches and things from the grocery store,” said Alvarez. “These farmworkers are bringing food to the table quite literally.”

Portrait of a Family, 2022, by Narsiso Martinez (Mexican, born 1977). Charcoal, acrylic, gold leaf and matte gel on strawberry box. 15 1/2 x 20 x 4 inches (39.37 x 50.8 x 10.16 cm). Private collection.

This upcoming exhibition is important, she said, because it represents people who work in jobs that are often undervalued and overlooked. The portrait-box paintings are transformative because they are, she said, “aesthetically gorgeous and, quite frankly, impossible to overlook.”

Helping to share the work of Martinez and other artists is part of what she loves about her job. “I get to advance the careers of artists who are working today and work with them and help them to get their voices out there,” she said. “I love that we get to bring art and art experiences to the public.”

For Alvarez, this show and Hispanic Heritage month are opportunities to embrace a welcoming, inclusive shift at museums. “It’s really important to celebrate diverse communities because, for so long in spaces like museums across the world, we have done a really good job of celebrating a homogenous population,” she said. “What we can do to remedy that is to celebrate the diversity of the global community that we are all a part of.”

As a curator and member of an immigrant family, Hispanic heritage month connects with her own story.  It is a great way to show people – the young, Latinx kids, Hispanic kids – how many different kinds of career options there are. People interested in the arts and museums, can be artists, like Kahlo, Marisol, and Martinez curators and even registrars. The last is a term for arts professionals whose work is similar to librarians: They care for and keep track of artwork. “There are a lot of careers in museums,” said Alvarez. “When I was growing up, I didn’t even know you could work in a museum.”

Alvarez’s parents wanted her to be a doctor or lawyer because that was their idea of success.  After an art history class in her freshman year of college, she learned about her eventual career after choosing the field as her major for its focus on global history and the art people make to express themselves.

Now that she’s become a curator, her family is proud of her and her choice.  “They like to visit museums with me,” she said. “They love it. It’s something none of us knew about.”

Michelle Kearns headshot

Michelle Kearns

As a former Buffalo News Reporter, teacher & member of a university communications team, I love sharing stories about Buffalo & the unexpected people, places & happenings here. It is a thrill to make new discoveries, and take in the city - & the Cheerios air! - as VBN's new communications manager.