by Myrna Zanetell
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Art museum honored with National Medal
In early May, the City of El Paso announced that our own El Paso Museum of Art had been chosen as one of 10 recipients to receive the National Medal from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The National Medal, the Institute’s highest honor, is awarded to museums and libraries which make significant and exceptional contributions to their communities. This award once again confirms that the EPMA ranks high among El Paso’s local treasures.
“The first step in this process is that congressmen nominate a handful of institutions in their districts, and it is then up to these nominees to decide if they want to apply for this award,” EPMA Development Manager Claire Tinguely Serpi explained. “We were nominated by Congressman Beto O’Rourke, and our winning application illustrated the ways in which we foster ‘Community Cohesion’ – this year’s theme. ...The EPMA was the only recipient from Texas, and the only art museum in the nation to win this year.
“This theme was very apropos for us. The city demonstrates community cohesion by working with our neighbor city across the border, and likewise, that sense of cohesion also shines through at the museum. We offer bilingual labels and programming, and the majority of our docents and instructors are bilingual. We cultivate an audience that is binational, and even in our exhibitions we pay special attention to plurality of perspectives. We embody the theme of community cohesion through and through, and that is why we won.
“In fact, I made certain to include the information in our application that even the name ‘El Paso’ implies or denotes what we truly are — a passage for ideas, culture, trade, and people – this fluidity is inherent to our identity. While other border towns may be talking about tolerance, we are more about appreciation and embracing other voices.”
The fact that the museum itself is located less than a mile from the U.S. Mexico border makes it truly accessible to citizens from both countries, she added.
Serpi emphasized that this award will encourage first-time visitors to come and see for themselves the quality of programs the museum offers.
“We are the only museum accredited by the American Alliance of Museums within a 200-mile radius,” Museum Director Victoria Ramirez said, “so the EPMA is really a resource for the 2.3 million residents of the Borderplex. The museum’s permanent collection, which includes American, European and Mexican works, also holds the distinction of being home to the second largest collection of Mexican retablos in the world. The wide range of our collections has helped us become a place where diverse groups can come together through art to respect other perspectives and find a common ground.”
For this reason, Serpi said, the museum makes a special effort to keep the museum accessible to all. “We have no entry fee; most of our exhibitions are free as are many of our workshops. The timing of this award was especially significant because it ties into the reopening of our magnificent Kress Collection, which includes works by some of the most famous artists of the period.
“In addition to having first class collections and programming, we also have an art school. The Algur H. Meadows Library and Maker Space, which is the art school’s tech studio classroom, offers the latest in new technologies for art making and research. Equipped with computer workstations, 2-D, and 3-D printers, the space is designed to inspired new ideas and new ways of creating art,” she added.
For information on how to use this space, contact museum staff at 212-3016.
Congratulations to Karla Zanelli and members of the El Paso Art Association for heading up banner years of accomplishments in 2017 and again in 2018. In 2017, in addition to its impressive gallery exhibitions and the growth of the Soldiers’ Workshops, the EPAA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Arts International.
The schedule of exhibitions for 2018 includes “Star Spangled America” June 29-Aug. 4, featuring paintings, sculpture and photography on a patriotic theme.
For those who love the magic of photography, “The International Eye of the Camera” opens July 8 and will run through Aug. 1. Zanelli noted that this year’s event will not be juried. “We are hoping this approach may encourage more photographers to want to show their work.”
The EPAA premier exhibition, “Arts International 2018,” will again be held at the International Museum of Art on Montana. The exhibition opens with a reception 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9, and runs through Oct. 3.
Zanelli related, “Since I first started working here, having Arts International return to the International Museum became one of my primary goals.” She was able to achieve this in 2017, with a spectacular event that was reminiscent of its celebrated past. In honor of the event’s 50th year, Zanelli assembled a fascinating collection of memorabilia including photos, programs and a plethora of press clippings. This year’s exhibition promises to be equally inviting.
The Crossland Gallery, which officially opened in 2008, is the city’s second oldest gallery (the Hal Marcus Gallery opened about a dozen years earlier). Although the El Paso Art Association had made arrangements to lease the property at 500 W. Paisano in the late 1990s, a great deal of work was required before the site was ready to display art. The first step was to divide the upper level into a series of rooms that could be rented to artists as studio space.
Although studio space was available much earlier, it was not until 2008 that the location became an operational gallery. Pat Foss and her daughter Katie were the first official directors. After a period of two years, Joyce Ewald took over the position. Working out of an office on the second floor, she served as the contact to artists wishing to lease studio space. In 2010, she moved her office downstairs, continuing to lease studio space while also coordinating the lower space that had been divided into the gallery spaces. In 2014 Zanelli took over as director of the Crossland Gallery.
The gallery is comprised of three main rooms, the Bissell, Cox, and Williams Galleries, each named in honor of an EPAA member who provided outstanding service to the Association. In addition to special themed exhibitions, the Crossland Gallery’s relaxed and inviting atmosphere provides space for monthly exhibitions of work by EPAA members.
If you have not visited the Crossland, you are missing one of the city’s most interesting and diverse galleries. Hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. For information call 534-7377.
Myrna Zanetell is a freelance writer
specializing in the visual arts.
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