Lourdes Ramos, who for the past dozen years has led the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico in San Juan as executive director and chief curator, has been named the new president and chief executive of the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach. She will be the first Latina to hold the post.
“We were looking for someone with the academic qualifications that Lourdes has, that could give us curatorial direction,” says Robert Braun, co-chair of the museum’s board of directors. “That’s very important. We’d like to see the museum become a thought leader in the field of Latin American, Latino and Chicano art.”
Ramos brings plenty of museum experience to the job.
Prior to her tenure at the Museo de Arte, she was was the director of the San Juan City Museum and the National Collection of Puerto Rico at the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. She received a master’s degree in fine arts from Illinois State University and her doctorate, in the same subject, from the University of Barcelona in Spain. She is also an accreditation commissioner for the American Alliance of Museums, which is how she first came to the attention of the board at MOLAA.
“She was the head of the accreditation team,” says Braun, who also sits on the board of the Long Beach Opera. “I could tell the type of woman she was, her leadership skills, and, really, how much she cares for the whole Latin American art perspective.”
At the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico she managed both the museum’s financials and the curatorial program.
“She recently led the [museum] through a strategic planning process focused on audience development, building the collection and ensuring financial stability,” says Braun. “MOLAA will begin that process when she comes in — developing a new strategic plan.”
Ramos, a native of Puerto Rico, arrives at the museum at a crucial period. MOLAA, which marked its 20th anniversary last year, has been without a director since the previous president, Stuart Ashman, left the institution last summer to join the Center for Contemporary Arts Santa Fe in New Mexico.
The museum is also in the process of bouncing back from a financially turbulent period that began in 2009, after the death of its founder, Robert Gumbiner, left the institution facing annual deficits. In 2012, Ashman slashed budgets and laid off staff, stabilizing the financial picture — and within a year, the museum was back in the black.
In the process, MOLAA has rebounded in other ways. Last year, the institution received accreditation from the AAM (making it easier to secure important loans) and it has undertaken innovative new partnerships.
This summer, the museum is teaming with Long Beach Opera to debut “Frida,” a new opera by Robert Xavier Rodriguez about the life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Currently, the museum is displaying a career retrospective of the work of groundbreaking Los Angeles painter Frank Romero.
But the exhibition program has remained uneven. This, says Braun, is where Ramos’ curatorial experience comes in: She has helped organize exhibitions on myriad subjects, including shows devoted to Puerto Rican impressionist Francisco Oller and ’80s New York painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was half Puerto Rican.
“It’s really about shaking up the program and the vision,” he says, “and to really bring in thought-provoking exhibitions.”
Ramos assumes her new role on May 1.