DO HISPANICS HAVE A HISTORICAL MUSEUM: THE HISPANIC SOCIETY UNVEILED

THE HISPANIC BLOG BY JESSICA MARIE GUTIERREZ

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The Hispanic Society of America is an imposing museum and research library.
It has a world-class collection of Iberian art that includes works from such masters as Goya, Velazquez and El Greco, and monumental sculptures by Anna Hyatt Huntington, the wife of the society’s founder.

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Yet the 104-year-old institution in Washington Heights, just blocks from the Audubon Ballroom where Malcolm X was assassinated, is not high on the itinerary of many tourists — or even New Yorkers. Some don’t even know it exists.

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Staying put in a neighborhood that over time has gone from pastoral to gritty and is now a Latin-flavored urban mix has come at a cost of visitors, revenue and recognition. But the Hispanic Society of America is fighting to make itself and its treasures known to a wider audience, even selling Huntington’s coin collection to raise money for new acquisitions.

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Tourists from Spanish-speaking countries “make a beeline to come up there,” said Michael Mowatt-Wynn, the Society’s community outreach advocate. But New Yorkers and other U.S. tourists are far less likely to be aware of it. School groups make up half of the Hispanic Society’s attendance.

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The museum, which is entered through an elaborately decorated courtyard featuring Moravian floor tiles, averages only 20,000 visitors a year, down from about 50,000 annually in the mid-1950s.

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It is easy to walk past the museum tucked behind gates along Broadway’s bustling commercial strip because its landmark status prevents it from placing large signs on the facade.

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The museum’s neighborhood runs from 155th Street to above 190th Street and from the Hudson to the Harlem rivers. It was one of the last areas of Manhattan to be developed and was largely rural when the Hispanic Society opened in 1908 on land once owned by naturalist John James Audubon across from Trinity Cemetery, the burial grounds for New York’s social elite.

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Mowatt-Wynn said the museum became mired in the changing demographics and economic downturn that struck New York City in the late 1960s and 1970s.

To raise its cultural profile, it loans works to major institutions throughout the U.S., Europe and Mexico. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example, has 20 objects from the Society on display at its new galleries for Islamic art. The Society is collaborating with the Meadows Museum in Dallas for a Sorolla exhibition in 2013, and it recently loaned works to the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art for an exhibition on Colonial Latin America.

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“The more your works are seen in major exhibitions, the more people come to realize that we’re a major institution with major holdings,” said Codding.

“It’s bigger than anything anyone in the U.S. has in Spanish material,” he added.

Read More story written by AP: http://online.wsj.com/article/AP786720b12f144305a314b0d4cd91695b.html

Hispanic Society of America: http://www.hispanicsociety.org

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