Reaching Broad Audiences through Miracles on the Border

Miracles on the Border: Retablos of Mexican Migrants to the United States, the Art Museum’s first fully bilingual exhibition, features fifty evocative retablos, small votive paintings that recount dangerous or threatening incidents in which the subjects were miraculously redeemed through the intervention of holy figures. Each of the paintings includes a narrative in Spanish accompanied by an English translation, and all of the gallery texts are in both English and Spanish. A recent study of bilingual museum interpretation showed that exhibitions presented in Spanish and English transform visitors’ emotional connection to museums and help create hospitable, accessible learning environments for diverse audiences. But experiences in the galleries can be just as telling as research surveys.

On a rainy day this spring, the Museum welcomed one hundred third graders from a public elementary school in Elizabeth, New Jersey. A group of Spanish-speaking students visited the exhibition Miracles on the Border with their teacher. During the visit one girl took a few steps away from the others and stood eye level with a gallery label. She ran her finger along the Spanish text, mouthing the words before rejoining the group that was looking closely at the retablos. For many of these students, this was their first visit to an art museum, and the bilingual presentation helped them connect with the content while offering a sense of welcome and inclusivity.

Beyond school visits, the gallery’s bilingualism has been an impetus to reach new audiences and expand the Museum’s program offerings, including at our annual Family Day in May and for an upcoming “Lotería” event. In addition, with the support of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Museum planned exhibition tours with FUTURO, a youth mentoring program for first- and second-generation immigrant students in Trenton and Princeton. Karina Aguilar Guerrero, a Princeton University undergraduate, led one of these tours: “As a Mexican immigrant myself, I found the themes covered to be very personally meaningful. It was powerful to see all the work that had been put into creating an exhibit that elevated the voices of people within the immigrant community, and I appreciated being able to participate in helping tour groups like the FUTURO students connect with the art pieces.”

The paintings in Miracles on the Border articulate the challenges of crossing the border and navigating a foreign economy, bureaucracy, and medical systems; they also offer thanks and express deep gratitude for family and community. The Museum is grateful for these opportunities to engage with students and families in new ways and to provide new avenues for visitors to connect with art.

Louise Barrett
Visitor Logistics Coordinator