Edward Hayes Jr. recalls sitting on a rock on the plaza at Ciudad Victoria, a village in Tamaulipas, Mexico, where his grandmother lived, and selling portraits he’d drawn for five pesos.

He was not even 10 yet, but the love of art had already seeped into his heart. His father would buy him reams of blank paper and boxes of markers to support his pastime.

“I remember drawing anything I saw on TV – Superman and all the cartoons I loved,” Hayes said, adding that his pastime began developing into a passion. “That was my entry into art… then I started drawing portraits of friends and family on napkins and it grew from there.”

As time went by, he’d often find ways to incorporate his second pastime into his art: baseball. While working toward his bachelor’s in fine arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he’d crack open a baseball and use its yarn in his work. He later earned a master’s in art history from the University of Texas at San Antonio.

His artistic passion led him to work as a curator, exhibitions manager and director of traveling exhibitions, most recently serving as exhibitions senior manager for the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio.

Edward Hayes, the El Paso Museum of Art’s new director, was raised in a bicultural and bilingual family in San Antonio and said he is proud to carry that heritage into his work. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Today, the 38-year-old Hayes is calling the Sun City home as the new director of the El Paso Museum of Art. He started his new role on June 20 and plans to elevate the museum’s quality, bolster its role in the community, attract broader and diverse audiences and facilitate access to those who might not typically visit the museum. 

Hayes will provide “strategic vision, artistic direction, and executive and administrative leadership” for the museum to “build on its rich legacy, collections, and unique strengths,”  Deputy City Manager Dionne Mack said in a press release. The art museum was founded in 1959 and has been at its current location at Arts Festival Plaza in Downtown since 1988.

Hayes will be paid $128,000 a year. He replaces Victoria Ramirez, who resigned in 2019 after serving in the role for two years. After the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused the city to shut down its quality of life operations including museums, the city hired a search firm to find a permanent replacement. It still took more than a year to find the right person for “this very specialized position,” Mack said in a statement to El Paso Matters. 

Ben Fyffe, the city’s managing director of cultural affairs and recreation, served as interim director the past few years. 

‘Part of who I am’

A native of San Diego who grew up in San Antonio, Hayes said he’s bilingual and bicultural – assets which he’s confident will help him in El Paso.

His father, Edward, is a native of Ohio who worked in the State Department and was often assigned overseas, which put Hayes in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Quito, Ecuador, for some of his life. He learned Spanish from his mother, Xochitl, and his grandmother, who are from Mexico.

“It’s part of who I am but also another tool to be able to connect to El Paso and the region, including our neighbors in Juárez and Mexico,” he said. “I can tell how vibrant the art scene is here and I’m excited about the possibilities.”

Hayes said he hadn’t spent much time in El Paso, but had been impressed by its murals and public art pieces when passing through. He recently visited San Elizario in far east El Paso County, meeting with renowned borderland artist Gaspar Enriquez, whose work is in the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian and the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture in Riverside, California.

Edward Hayes Jr., the El Paso Museum of Art new director, poses with a piece by local artist Gaspar Enriquez on June 22. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

He was a great introduction into the art world in El Paso,” Hayes said, sitting just feet from one of Enriquez’s larger-than-life size-pieces in the museum lobby.

He also noted Enriquez’s mural work at Southwest University Park when he attended his first El Paso Chihuahuas game, saying he appreciates how public and private businesses showcase local art talent – and an affinity for the home team.

What’s this baseball fan’s favorite team? “From now on, the Chihuahuas,” he quipped. And while the home team’s major league affiliate is the San Diego Padres, Hayes says he’s long been a Cincinnati Reds fan because of his father’s Ohio roots – and an LA Dodgers fan because of the years he lived in Los Angeles.

Hayes also worked at the nonprofit International Arts & Artists in Washington, D.C., serving as director of the Traveling Exhibitions Service. There, he managed more than 25 exhibitions touring annually and launched 10 new exhibitions into the marketplace.

He’d like to eventually create a traveling exhibit to take El Paso-area artists’ work throughout the community – and across the country, he said.

A space for underrepresented voices

At the art museum, he’d like to showcase an array of works – from exhibits that expose the region’s culture to those that expose the community to new and different points of view.

“Something that’s also key, I believe, is making space in our exhibitions for underrepresented voices, underrepresented narratives, underrepresented artists,” Hayes said. “And in doing so, I believe we’re also going to represent authentic cultural expressions from within.”

The El Paso Museum of Art has named its new director, Edward Hayes, who comes to El Paso from San Antonio. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

He said he hopes to strike the right balance.

“There’s many ways to both reflect the community that you’re working in and that you’re serving, while also bringing in something that folks have never seen before,” he said. “It’s about being connected, being in the loop and in touch with where you are. And it’s also about being curious about what’s out there and building networks to bring those exhibits here.”

Hayes said he planned to spend his first 30 days in El Paso immersing himself in the museum and getting to know the staff, who have been without a permanent director for several years.

But on his first week on the job when he talked to El Paso Matters, he had something else to take care of first.

“I have a promise to fulfill,” he said, noting his wife, Kara, a school teacher, and their 5-year-old daughter, Lucía Felícitas. “I need to get my daughter’s art up on my office walls.” 

Asked if his daughter’s medium was watercolors, crayons or macaroni, Hayes proudly responded that Lucía is really good at everything, including fabric, and knows how to sew.

“We have that in common, that art gene,” he said. “We have a certain ease with drawing.”

El Paso native Cindy Ramirez has spent most of her career in journalism, with some stints in public and media relations and military reporting. She's covered everything from education to local government...