The University of Texas at El Paso’s Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts will use a new three-year, $610,518 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to expand its paid internship program for undergraduates who aspire to work in museums.

The center plans to train these students with the help of community partners on how to prepare contemporary art exhibits that showcase Latin culture and connect with Latin communities. The center also will collaborate with the City of El Paso’s museums to organize a Latinx museum and arts professional speaker series to build networks and share knowledge.

Kerry Doyle, director of the Rubin Center, said that she is excited about all aspects of this grant because it will widen the pathway for more UTEP students to get jobs in the field, especially in Downtown El Paso where the city’s museum footprint continues to expand. She mentioned how the city’s museum leaders plan to hire additional museum personnel to include those who prepare the exhibits and do public relations and marketing.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment of archivists, curators and museum workers is expected to grow by 10% through 2032, which is much faster than the average of all occupations. The bureau projects an average of 5,000 openings per year for these professionals. As of 2022, the median annual pay in these fields was more than $53,000.

“As the demographics of our country changes, museums are interested in having staff that represent the communities they serve,” said Doyle, who added that the Latinx population is very underrepresented across all facets of the museum field. “There’s really a need for more bilingual/bicultural (museum) professionals across the country. Our students coming out of this program will be highly employable.”

There are almost 20 museums and cultural centers in the greater El Paso area. This does not include the two new ones that are under construction in Downtown El Paso: La Nube children’s museum and the Mexican American Cultural Center.

Existing museums in the Downtown area include its museums of Art and History, as well as the International Museum of Art, the El Paso Holocaust Museum, the Magoffin Home State Historic Site and the University of Texas at El Paso’s Centennial Museum and Chihuahuan Desert Gardens.

The city also has the El Paso Museum of Archaeology in Northeast El Paso, which is next to the National Border Patrol Museum. There also is a Bracero Museum under development in Socorro, about 13 miles southeast of El Paso, and a museum complex at Fort Bliss that is closed for renovations but should reopen in July 2025.

Edward Hayes, director of the El Paso Museum of Art, said the Rubin’s internship program will help with the tremendous need nationally for more museum professionals who better reflect the communities they serve.

Hayes mentioned the Molina Family Latino Gallery that opened last year as part of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Latino, and recent key hires at significant American art museums as examples of the growing interest in Latino curators and curators who focus on Latino art.

“There definitely is demand,” Hayes said.

Hayes and Erica Marin, director of the El Paso Museum of History, submitted letters of support for this grant application. Hayes also offered his museum’s El Paso Energy Auditorium for the grant’s planned spring speaker series. He is not sure how else he will be involved, but said as a bilingual arts professional with more than 15 years in the business, he stands ready to help however possible.

Kerry Doyle, director of the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts, said museum workers — archivists, curators, preparation personnel and marketing specialists — are in high demand and a new grant will fund the expansion of a museum internship program. (Daniel Perez / El Paso Matters)

Among the other supporters of the recent grant are Laura Zamarripa, IMLS program specialist, and Adriana Miramontes Olivas, curator of Academic Programs and Latin American & Caribbean Art at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon.

Zamarripa, a native El Pasoan who graduated from Austin High School, learned to love museums in elementary school and served as a teen docent at the El Paso Museum of Art when it was on Montana Avenue.

Prior to working with the IMLS, Zamarripa worked five years with the El Paso Museum of Art. Her last position was community engagement manager where she was in charge of education, which gave her the chance to expose young  students to art.

Zamarripa said the Rubin Center’s expanded internship program will give more undergraduates the opportunity to work in a museum and build a professional network. She added that the bilingual and bicultural museum staff will be role models to student visitors who may aspire to work at a museum.

She thought another important aspect of the grant was the creation of a team of past interns and an outside evaluator that would assess the internship program and help shape its future.The evaluator is Cecilia Garibay, an independent consultant from Chicago who has spent most of her career in museums focused on diversity, equity and inclusion issues.

Miramontes Olivas remembers the exposure to contemporary art she experienced as a Rubin Center intern from 2005 to 2008. She learned how to plan and install exhibitions, engage artists and the public, translate exhibit materials, and work with the media. It led to her decision to pursue a career in art history .

The curator, who grew up in Juárez and earned her bachelor’s degree in art from UTEP in 2008, said internship programs are essential to train future archivists and curators who can promote arts and culture, and can engage supporters. While these kinds of opportunities are plentiful in bigger cities that often hire hundreds of interns, that is not the case on the border.

Miramontes Olivas added that the ability to speak multiple languages and understand different cultures is a professional advantage

“It certainly helped me,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my interest in learning English, and the support of my family to acquire my education on the other side of the border.”

Laura Huerta Migus, IMLS deputy director for museum services, said her institute received more than 20 applications for this year’s American Latino Museum Internship and Fellowship Initiative, making it one of the most competitive programs of this year’s funding cycle. She said an external panel reviewed each proposal and submitted its recommendations to the IMLS.

“In the case of (the Rubin Center) project, both reviewers and agency decision makers were impressed by the depth of experience in designing a student-centered internship program and the approach to gathering data to better understand how to support students and interns in pathways to museum careers,” Huerta Migus said.

Aside from the six part-time undergraduate interns and the evaluation team, the IMLS grant will fund professional mentors, site visits, a speaker series, and student stipends for summer experiences at regional partner institutions and beyond.

Daniel Perez covers higher education for El Paso Matters, in partnership with Open Campus. He has written on military and higher education issues in El Paso for more than 30 years.