August 26, 2014
By Alana Melanson
Sisters. A businessman. A group of firefighters. A police officer. An older couple very much in love. A sassy young girl with a spark of life. A young woman cradling her newborn baby. A girl on her way to becoming a gymnastics champion.
For about a year, Latino families and individuals from the community have been coming into the Fitchburg Art Museum, but not just to see the art - they came to become a part of it.
"We really wanted to do this because, as we invite this community to come to the museum, they will come and see that they are already here," museum Director Nick Capasso said. "It's a way of the museum reaching out to the community as part of its intrinsic programming.
About 39 percent of the overall population of Fitchburg is Latino, he said, and 55 percent of the kids in Fitchburg Public Schools are in homes where they speak Spanish.
"One of the things we're trying to be mindful of is that we have a very large and growing Latino population in Fitchburg," Capasso said. "We are trying very hard to reach out to this community and make them feel welcome at the museum."
As part of the Bilingual Museum Initiative, all exhibitions now have text in both English and Spanish, and bilingual posts are made on Facebook, he said. The museum also has its first bilingual receptionist, Capasso said, and two bilingual docents who give tours in both languages.
On Sept. 21, two exhibitions celebrating the local Latino community will open. "One Language is Never Enough: Latino Artists in Southern New England" will feature the work of 24 artists from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, and "Mario Quiroz: Mis Vecinos (My Neighbors), Portraits of Fitchburg's Latino Communities" will feature photos of local Latino residents.
Cambridge-based photographer Quiroz, originally from El Salvador, was invited to become artist-in-residence at the museum last year.
A gallery was transformed into a photography studio, and Quiroz also went out into the community, creating informal portraits in homes, businesses, churches and social gatherings.
The Cleghorn Neighborhood Center acted as community organizing partner.
Quiroz's exhibit will officially kick off as an exhibit next month, but many of the people who have been photographed are already using the digital copies they've received as Facebook profile pictures, Quiroz said.
Most of Quiroz's 100 photos are black and white, but about 30 formal portraits are hand-colored and will ultimately become part of the museum's permanent collection.
"It's a mirror of the community in a very different way," he said. "It's about empowering them in a way that they see their worth."
Quiroz said most people are not used to seeing themselves as art.
"I can guarantee that all the kids, when they come and see themselves here, it will be a decisive factor in their life," he said.
Quiroz photographed a wide variety of members of the community, representing countries including Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Honduras and Mexico.
Two of the most meaningful photos for him are of a Salvadoran man named Josue and his son, Mickey, both smiling ear to ear, and the Uruguayan Molinari family with their 3-year-old son, Thiago. They are wearing Team Thiago shirts, paying tribute to the group that formed to raise funds to pay for the care for Thiago's leukemia.
Josue was nearly deported about a year ago, but local support from a group that called itself Todos Somos Josue (We Are Josue) prevented that from happening, Quiroz said. He said he saw Mickey first without his father, and then with him, and "he was a completely different child."
"You know how they talk about keeping families together? Well this is a family, and it's real," Quiroz said. "Families get affected by this - but also can get happy endings."
As for Team Thiago, "it could be anybody's child, and as a parent, and as a community member, you feel that," Quiroz said. "Solidarity is one of the greatest virtues a community can have."
Quiroz said his photos are reflections of the qualities those he photographed brought with them.
"The life, the youth, the hope - it's theirs," he said.
Quiroz said the city is going through an interesting transformation. Today it's Latinos; 50 years ago it was French Canadians, he said.
"Fitchburg has always been changing," Quiroz said. "In 50 years, who knows who's going to be the new guy in town?"
He said it's amazing that the museum wants to celebrate and treasure that.
"Now the museum is becoming a reflection of its community," Quiroz said.
Source: Sentinel & Enterprise