El Museo del Barrio's Outgoing Director Sues the Museum for Employment Discrimination

One passage from the Jot Down interview in particular drew much ire on Facebook and Twitter: When interviewer E.J. Rodríguez asked Martínez what role she would play in the museum's future she replied that it was to "redefine goals, which was basically to attend to the cultural values of the Hispanic community." Martínez went on to say that she hoped to "put the ways of thinking of 'esa gente' in touch with the ways of thinking of other communities that have nothing to do with Hispanics, to get the museum out of that niche."

Whether it was subconscious snobbery or overt arrogance, Martínez's "esa gente" quote seemed to galvanize an online community of outrage. "Nobody's questioned her capacity to curate, she's a star curator," said Pedro Vélez, a Chicago-based Puerto Rican art critic whose Twitter feed was an early spark in the brushfire of online indignance. "[The interview] shows she doesn't understand the philosophy of the museum, which has a long history."

Gonzalo Casals, the deputy executive director of the museum who is now taking on director's duties in wake of Aguilar's departure said of criticisms of Martínez: "It's great that people are so passionate about El Museo! I believe that when people get to know Chus they'll see how committed she is to El Museo's mission."

While El Museo's 43-year history has not lacked for controversy, its transformation over the last 15 years from a community art museum founded by local Puerto Rican activists to a more "global" museum located on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue "Museum Mile" has drawn criticism and protest. NYU Professor Arlene Dávila, whose book Latino Spin devotes a chapter to "the politics of Latino/a art museums" says that the museum's "upscaling is directly related to a general whitewashing of Latino/a culture so it becomes more pallatable to corporate/financial interests. The museum has become a battleground at the center of community debates around gentrification."

In 2011, Neyda Martínez, a former employee of and consultant to El Museo, interviewed scores of local residents for a report commissioned by the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone about the need for a new arts organization for the neighborhood and found that many residents "were dismayed by El Museo's seeming desire to detach from the community."

"El Museo is […] always looking for new, better ways to engage members of our various constituencies," said Casals. "This spring El Museo will offer over 20 public programs for families, students, parents and adults, all of these feature free admission, and will offer a total of 12 artist residencies in the South Bronx, Manhattan, Western Queens and Brooklyn free of charge."

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