In Latin America, women are often the brains and hands behind major art institutions. Think Patricia Galeana, Director of Mexico’s Museo de la Mujer, or Graciela Tejero, Director of the Museum of Women in Argentina. Likewise, Estrellita Bordsky, Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, Rosa de la Cruz, Zélika García… Latin American art definitely has an army of women at the helm.
And Puerto Rico is no exception.
Enter Marianne Ramirez Aponte
Ramirez Aponte is a museologist and educator, with decades of experience under her belt. She has taught Art History and Art Appreciation at the University of Puerto Rico, Universidad del Sagrado Corazón and the Escuela de Artes Plásticas de Puerto Rico.
Her education began with a B.A. in Art History and Printmaking from the University of Puerto Rico and an M.A. in Puerto Rican and Caribbean Studies from the Center for Advanced Studies of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
Since 1995, Ramirez Aponte has served as curator and director of exhibitions and collections at institutions within the island. Currently, she is executive director of the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico, and is one of the managers of Arte Santurce: Alianza Cultural de Barrio Obrero a la 15.
But on the island, contradictions abound in the cultural/institutional sphere as well. While the beaches continue to attract tourists, natural disasters and the economic crisis erode museums and universities alike.
Boricua, synonymous with resilience
As the Puerto Rican nation succumbed to political scandals and natural disasters, the thriving arts scene has become increasingly visible through creative projects and a whole generation of unparalleled musicians and artists.
Some institutions, such as the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico (MAC), have also stepped forward.
Located in the heart of San Juan’s Santurce district, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo became a beacon of hope for the surrounding community after the storm, serving as an educational resource and providing a space for the performing arts, and channeling resources for the lives of residents.
Since 1984, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico (MAC) has been dedicated to offering Puerto Rican artists and communities the opportunity to exhibit their art and tell important stories about culture.
Behind this energy of renewal in recent years has been its director, Marianne Ramirez Aponte.
The director spearheaded the MAC’s proactive role after the hurricane, and earlier this year, along with her colleague, the Museum’s curator of contemporary art Marina Reyes Franco, Ramirez Aponte has led an update that reveals the MAC’s sustained commitment to generating cultural opportunities for local artists and residents of all ages.
More than an institution, a tool for change
The MAC is housed in the attractive, historic Rafael M. de Labra neoclassical Georgian-style building. This peaceful space, designed by architect Adrian C. Finlayson, was built between 1916 and 1918. In 1987, the building was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Although the MAC’s permanent collection contains 1,400 works of art created since the mid-20th century, the museum’s reach extends far beyond its walls. Its mission is to provide cultural equity and serve a diverse population, Forbes explained.
Marianne Ramirez Aponte and her team see the power of the arts as tools for social and urban transformation.
To that end, her “MAC en el Barrio: de Santurce a Puerto Rico” program has served 27 communities in locations throughout the island, many of whom live below the poverty level. Its 44 projects include art and images of their inhabitants in public spaces.
The museum works with communities, using art as a means of expression and as a translator of visions.
The MAC, thus, fosters a constant dialogue between artists and the public, between the past and the present, creating an environment that celebrates cultural diversity and equality. They give voice to people in different geographic locations and within the LGBTQ+ and homeless communities.
“We want everyone to have a place within the museum,” Ramirez told Forbes.
El Momento del Yagrumo
The MAC’s latest exhibition is a testament to its mission and the urgency of its work.
Titled “El Momento del Tagrumo,” the curatorship is a metaphor that highlights the growing demands for the protection and defense of the island’s territories, Reyes Franco told Fresh Art International.
Through the works of 21 artists and collectives selected by Reyes, the exhibition delves into how we inhabit the world and connect with its ecosystems in different ways using nature, struggle, and looking to the past.
“The moment of Yagrumo is a metaphor for post-hurricane recovery but is also an urgent call for deeper changes to our relationship with nature,” says Reyes.
One of the MAC’s goals is to share stories so that the community feels represented within the museum. When they initiate artistic and cultural projects, they want to inspire people to create their own projects.
“We hope that we can engage younger generations,” Marianne Ramirez Aponte said. “And in turn, they can help solve the problems of the community.”
The exhibition will be on display at MAC until September 19.