National Museum of Mexican Art receives $3.5 million grant

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National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen.

National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The National Museum of Mexican Art on Monday announced a $3.5 million, four-year unrestricted grant from the Ford Foundation.

The grant is among 20 awarded across the country and the only one awarded in Illinois. The grants support Black, Latinx, Asian and Indigenous arts organizations as part of the America’s Cultural Treasures initiative.

“It’s such an honor to be in a group of 20 organizations and the only one in Chicago to receive a grant,” said said Carlos Tortolero, founder and president of the museum.

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The museum, which has been closed since March due to COVID-19 pandemic mandates, has to date conducted more than 180 virtual tours with various schools and corporations. The interactive tours are conducted via live stream with a museum docent leading the way. In addition, the museum’s online programming also includes classes, concerts, films and interviews.

More than 150,000 people visit the museum — which does not charge admission — each year.

“I know a few large museums around country who want to remain private, and they call us and ask, how do you do it?,” Tortorelo said about the free admission policy. “I believe the arts either belong to everybody or they don’t belong to everybody. Everyone should be able to experience the arts, everyone should have accessibility. If we can be free-of-charge, why can’t other museums do the same? Free admission days are great, but there’s wall-to-wall people. If more museums were free all the time, more people could enjoy them.”

Tortorello said the grant funding will go toward endowments and cash reserves.

“I’ve always told people that when it comse to programming, our philosophy is we’ve been super progressive. Financially we’ve always been very conservative,” he said.

This is not the first Ford Foundation grant the museum has received, he said. The most recent grant was bestowed through the foundation’s Diversifying Art Museum Leadership Initiative in 2019.

“The museum staff work tirelessly to bring forth the rich stories, past and present, giving voice to the Mexican community throughout the country and the world,” Tortorello said in a statement earlier in the day. “We are thrilled to receive this funding as an acknowledgment of the contributions of communities of color.”

On Tuesday, the museum will be inducted into the LGBTQ Hall of Fame, for its diverse programming and inclusiveness, Tortorello said.

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