Image: Painting at Museo Alameda
Eric Gay  /  AP
"Rosita," a painting by artist Jesse Trevino, awaits visitors to the Museo Alameda, the nation's largest museum dedicated to Latino culture and art, in San Antonio. The new museum opened to the public on Friday.
updated 4/16/2007 2:38:51 PM ET 2007-04-16T18:38:51

A hot-pink building with colored lights in this city of Hispanic immigrants will house the nation’s largest museum devoted to Latino culture and arts.

As the debate over the growing number of Hispanic immigrants intensified, organizers decided it was important to showcase the blend of Latino culture with American culture, including that of other immigrant groups, said Ruth Medellin, executive director of the Museo Alameda, a partnership between the Alameda National Center for Latino Arts and Culture and the Smithsonian Institution.

“It’s the Latino experience in art, culture and history, but it’s about the American experience,” she said, noting a photo exhibit of Latino musicians who borrowed the accordion and polka music of German immigrants to create a unique style known as conjunto.

“There’s a lot of blending, the weave of a fabric that we share as a nation,” she said.

Blocks from the Alamo
Located just blocks from the Alamo and the San Antonio Riverwalk, the 39,000-square-foot facility is expected to attract more than 400,000 visitors a year. All the exhibits but one will rotate, displaying pieces ranging from Smithsonian artifacts to work by emerging Latino artists.

The one permanent exhibit is designed to look like a botanica, a shop jammed with everything from homeopathic herbs to fragrant soaps and religious statues. The display at Museo Alameda was created with inventory from San Antonio’s oldest botanica, which closed two years ago.

The hot-pink exterior of the $12 million museum includes an enormous steel and aluminum plate wall with designs punched in it to resemble a luminaria, a Mexican light fixture used for celebrations. The metal wall will be backlit with continuously changing colored lights synchronized to music.

One exhibit on display at the museum, which opened Friday, is a 6-foot-by-26-foot digital mural titled “Somos,” or “We are,” by George Cisneros. It includes images such as a statue of St. Michael and old family photos as well as undulating rainbow-colored images meant to resemble woven serapes.

“We’re offering a montage of visual imagery that brings personal memories out,” said Cisneros, who was asked to interpret his own experience growing up in San Antonio.

From pre-Columbian to Picasso
Other exhibits include pre-Columbian vessels from Peru, an emerald ring that belonged to Mexican Emperor Maximilian and a pearl and gem necklace designed by Paloma Picasso. Those pieces are on loan from the Smithsonian.

Museo Alameda was one of the first projects designated as a Smithsonian-affiliated site. The partnership was announced a decade ago, shortly after a report found that the nation’s museums had failed to adequately reach out to Hispanics.

Image: Space suit worn by astronaut Deke Slayton
Eric Gay  /  AP
A space suit worn by astronaut Deke Slayton was on display Wednesday at the Museo Alameda, the nation's largest museum dedicated to Latino culture and art, in San Antonio.
“The time is right for a more robust cultural presence in the form of museums just because of demographics. The Latino community is growing and its presence is being felt,” said Pilar O’Leary, director of the Smithsonian Latino Center.

As the nation’s largest minority group, Latinos want their history and culture represented in museums, O’Leary said. And non-Latinos are increasingly interested in the culture that has a growing influence on the country, she said.

Henry R. Munoz III, the founding chairman of Museo Alameda’s board of trustees, said the effort has also helped breathe new life into a building that sits at the city’s historic Market Square, where vendors have bought and sold goods for nearly 200 years.

“Now, it’s a marketplace of ideas and cultural exchange,” he said.

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