Founded in 1959, the El Paso Museum of Art was born from a need to house a significant donation of European Baroque and Renaissance works to the City of El Paso by the Samuel Kress Foundation. This collection encompasses major works by Botticelli, Canaletto, Van Dyck, Zurbarán, and Artemesia Gentilleschi, among other Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance masters. Over time, this seed collection grew to include over 7000 works. In 1998, EPMA moved to its current location at the heart of El Paso’s Downtown Arts District, less than a mile from the bridge to Juárez.
For the past twenty years, EPMA’s Art School has been an integral part of this space. Housed within the Museum, prominently located on EPMA’s first floor with the main doors accessed from the Museum’s grand lobby, the Art School consists of four studio classrooms and a student artist gallery. The Art School occupies a significant footprint in the Museum: 6,500 square feet. There are three studio classrooms: one designed for ceramics with two kilns and nine throwing wheels; one for printmaking and painting; and another for multi-purpose studio use.
EPMA’s Art School is the only space of its kind in the entire Borderplex region. The Art School is unique to the region in offering both children and adults classes that combine art making with the study of original works of art on view in the Museum’s galleries. EPMA prioritizes offering the highest quality experiences through equipping the studio classrooms, providing supportive training for teaching artists, and utilizing professional grade tools and materials. As a result, the Art School’s growth has remained steady since 1998. New staff members and improvements to the studio classrooms prompted a marked increase in quality and participation that began in 2016 with expanded offerings that better connected to EPMA’s collection. Classes are offered for children ages 6-13, teens, and adults throughout the year, and camps are strategically scheduled during spring break and over the summer.
EPMA strives to ensure that it provides the Borderplex with the access to the very best art, of international interest. EPMA presents approximately a dozen exhibitions a year, with a wide scope of programming initiatives and Art School offerings. Creating an environment and resource for all audiences is reflected by EPMA’s open doors policy: general admission, school tours, and nearly all of its high-quality educational programming are free.
The mission of the El Paso Museum of Art is to collect, preserve, interpret, and exhibit works of art that support and illuminate the Museum’s permanent collection of American, European, and Mexican art. The Museum celebrates the region’s diverse cultures through exhibitions, acquisitions, and educational programs and is dedicated to scholarship while providing a stimulating and inspiring environment for all audiences.
UNIQUE AUDIENCE, DIVERSE COMMUNITY
EPMA is the only American Alliance of Museums-accredited art museum within a 200-mile radius, one of the only accredited museums in all of West Texas, and serves as a major cultural and educational resource for West Texas, New Mexico, and Northern Mexico with nearly 100,000 visitors each year. The demographic characteristics of this region are diverse and unique among large cities in the United States because of the nature of its fluid, binational population which sees inhabitants working, learning, and socializing across international and state borders on a daily basis. El Paso and its sister city Ciudad Juárez, Mexico share three international bridges that bring 75,000 people from Juárez to El Paso each day (Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2016). According to Customs and Border Protection, 600 to 1,000 children legally cross the Paso del Norte bridge to go to school every day. Moreover, over 80% of residents identify as Mexican, Hispanic, or Mexican-American.
As a microcosm for its border community of 2.7 million inhabitants, EPMA demonstrates strong diversity both inwardly and outwardly. Among staff, bilingual and Hispanic professionals are represented in every department of the Museum. Furthermore, one third of EPMA docents and half of Art School Teaching Artists are bilingual and able to lead school tours, educational programs, and classes in English and Spanish. The Museum recognizes its region’s diverse cultures through exhibitions, acquisitions, educational programs, and staff and board representation. Examples of curatorial attention to bilingual accessibility are multifold. The majority of labels in the galleries, for example, are offered in English and Spanish. Recently, EPMA’s bilingual exhibition catalogues received critical acclaim in a 2017 Texas Commission on the Arts grant examiner’s assessment. This multicultural heritage is also evident in EPMA’s world-class collection of art, which emphasizes works of Spanish Colonial and European, American, and Mexican art, including one of the largest and most prestigious collections of Mexican retablos in the world.
EPMA aspires to serve as a model for cultural institutions along the US/Mexico border. As its name “The Pass” implies, the city of El Paso has always served as a door for the exchange of ideas, trade, and culture. In fact, the El Paso/Juárez “Borderplex” is one of the largest binational communities in the world. In 2017, Congressman Beto O’Rourke nominated EPMA for the National Medal for Museum and Library Service for its service to the community in providing world-class art experiences and for promoting community cohesion. In 2018, the Institute of Museum and Library Services announced EPMA as one of ten winners for this award, the nation’s highest honor for museum and library service.