In a city with hot cultural venues like the Denver Art Museum and MCA Denver, the Latino-focused Museo de las Americas sometimes gets short shrift. But Maruca Salazar, appointed to the Museo's directorship in July, aims to make the 19-year-old community arts center a more integral part of the city's cultural landscape by tapping well-known artists and collaborating with other museums and galleries. She couldn't be better suited for the job: Born in Veracruz, Mexico, a region known for its vibrant cultural influences, she brings her rich heritage and a good helping of corazón to the task. "This is my passion," says Salazar, 57. "This is where I was born to be."
This month her debut curatorial exhibit opens at the Museo: La Malagua (The Jellyfish) is the work of five Mexican artists and two local artists who present a humorous and culturally rich update to the images of the traditional Mexican Lotería (bingo). The subsequent Liberators Project (June 24-Sept. 1), with artists from Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia, will be part of Denver's inaugural Biennial of the Americas, a monthlong celebration of art and cultural themes from across the Americas.
Salazar has been a force in Denver's cultural scene since the '70s, when she moved here and discovered a marginalized Latino arts community. She and her husband helped found the Chicano Humanities & Arts Council (CHAC) in 1978, and she eventually became the arts coordinator for Denver Public Schools. Currently, she's negotiating a partnership between the Museo and the Denver Art Museum to exhibit the work of the late Luis Jiménez, the controversial—and, according to Salazar, misunderstood—sculptor of DIA's "Blue Mustang."
It's all part of what Salazar terms "calling back to the people." Besides student outreach, she uses strategies such as artistic "guerilla" campaigns with performance artists on the 16th Street Mall. "We have made progress, but not the progress I would like to see," she says. "Never be comfortable."