Karen Vidangos founded Latina in Museums while in graduate school in 2016. Tired of feeling underrepresented in cultural institutions, she felt empowered to speak about it by creating a digital space. Exploring the underrepresented perspectives in the museum field, she also highlights the Latinx community who take up space in cultural institutions. As a social media specialist, she finds comfort in exploring, researching, discussing and centering black and brown stories online. We spoke to Karen about founding her platform, diversity in museums and the Latinx artists to look out for.
What got you interested in art?
Jackson Pollock in middle school. I don’t even know where I remember seeing it (I didn’t go to an art museum until I was in college) but I distinctly remember seeing Jackson Pollock’s action paintings and feeling drawn to them. They have such power over you. Then finally I got to see a work in person at the National Gallery of Art in D.C., Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), and it’s power was everything I had imagined it would be; full of chaos and emotion. Of course, now I have other favorites that aren’t white or male that keep me interested.
When did you start A Latina in Museums?
I started Latina in Museums in graduate school in 2016. This was when I was first able to clearly articulate what I had been observing and experiencing in museum spaces. After pouring over research and meeting others with similar experiences of ostracization, I felt empowered to speak on it.
What did you study?
I studied art history in my undergrad and museum studies in graduate school.
How did you get your job at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery?
A lot of hard work and female friendships. I applied to over 50 positions before I landed my first full-time role.
Why do you think it’s important to promote wider diversity within museums?
Not seeing yourself reflected in museum spaces is powerful. You begin to understand art through a single perspective and see a hierarchy created because of it. Where do people of color fit within that hierarchy? If we are so far at the bottom that we are not even considered, then how truly reflective are museums of our society’s culture as cultural institutions? There is an immense range of talent at every level that has not been seen by museums and museums lose out because of it.
Who are the Latinx artists we should be looking out for?
Scrolling through Instagram a year or so ago, I scrolled upon a fantastic artist from California, Gabriella Sanchez (@_gabriella_sanchez). Her work evokes a sense of pride in culture and community. It is bold and unapologetic. I finally got to see her work at the last Armory Show and as a Latina, it really moved me to see it. I am not Chicana (some of the symbolism in her work speaks on Chicanx identity) but I rarely see Latinx work being shown in these spaces so I still feel a sense of solidarity and pride.
Who are your art sheroes?
Not sure I can name them all. They’re not famous and we are all facing similar challenges in the field but all the women I’ve met along the way as I began my career in the arts through the present have been incredibly inspiring to me. Whether I met them through work or on Twitter (#MuseumsArtNotNeutral), I am constantly amazed at the sheer magic they possess. They are art activists, social media mavens, creative innovators, and some of the most talented women I’ll ever meet.
What advice would you give to young women wanting to pursue a career in the art world?
If this is what you truly want and there is nothing else in the world meant for you, then go at it head first and don’t give up. It is tough and will often break your heart, but the reward, meeting some of the most talented artists, seeing some of the most incredible work, and being a small part of it all, is absolutely worth it. I can’t imagine my life going any other way.
What are your plans and hopes for the future?
I would like to see Latina in Museums grow into a space unto its own where the conversation is shared beyond my experiences and hopefully still working with talented artists and incredible women in the arts.
Text Lizzy Vartanian