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Pittsburgh's newest museum explores Latin American history, culture and more

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Latin America covers a vast area of ​​the globe, stretching thousands of miles from north to south. About 650 million people live in more than 40 countries and territories, and the history of human habitation dates back to his 20,000 years.

History, culture and geography all fit together in one small museum. But a brand new Latin American Cultural Center will open on Tuesday, September 20, with an ambitious expedition aimed at spreading the word about these richly diverse lands.

The Center is a project of the Association for Latin American Studies, a Pittsburgh-based academic association with approximately 14,000 members in 90 countries. LASA Executive Director He Milagros Pereyra-Rojas said the museum is trying to address a widespread lack of knowledge about the area.

“We’re trying to accurately present geography, history, art, and culture, which are fundamental pieces of information that aren’t necessarily known in the United States,” she said. Center officials noted that nearly 20% of the U.S. population has roots in Latin America, including the Caribbean, noting Pittsburgh’s growing Latino population.

One of the better known aspects of the Center is its physical home. The landmark Italian Renaissance building on Bigelow Boulevard (corner of Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall) was built in 1912 for the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society. The Society he left over 20 years ago has been reborn in the Strip District as the much larger Heinz History Center.

LASA purchased an elegant 15,000 square foot building in 2019.

“When we found this building, we knew we had an opportunity to do something good to introduce the Pittsburgh community and the world to what Latin America is all about,” said Bill DeWalt of the Center.

DeWalt was the former director of both the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He and his wife, Sylvia M. Keller, served as senior advisors to the fledgling center. The exhibit was designed by Sandra Budd, the Center’s assistant his director and curator.

On the first floor, visitors enter a series of galleries with artifacts, exhibits, and touchscreen displays. Trace the region’s geography and natural history to the first human settlements. Later galleries explore European colonization, including many indigenous peoples and their cultures, early civilizations (Olmecs, Incas, Aztecs), the decimation of indigenous peoples, the importation of enslaved Africans, and the beginning of large colonies. Investigating fractures caused by terrestrialization. resource extraction.

The displays highlight the richness and economic inequality of Latin America’s ecosystems, from mountains and rainforests to deserts. Other exhibits celebrate the region’s art, from indigenous textiles to contemporary literature and film.

The center has a small auditorium on the ground floor for readings and performances. It’s decorated with a small but sizeable reproduction of the stunning mural ‘Latin American Presence’ by Mexican artist Jorge Gonzalez Camarena. (The original is in Chile.)

On the second floor, you’ll find Maya Spirituality: Indigenous Paintings, 1957-2020. 43 vibrant oil paintings reflect contemporary folk art from a region in Guatemala.

“These are beautiful paintings that seek to highlight the daily lives of the Maya and how they relate to spirituality and to nature,” said DeWalt. .

As a new museum, DeWalt acknowledges that the center doesn’t have many original historical artifacts. (Exceptions include a 1,400-year-old carved stone mask from Mexico.) In fact, many of the contemporary items on display, including artwork, are from the DeWalt and Keller collections. Thing.

Learn more about the center here.