Interviews

An Artist on How the Met Is Reaching Beyond the Museum with a New Civic Engagement Residency

In June, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced it was launching an initiative to support partnerships for artists who have a social practice focus. We reached out to one of the artists, Miguel Luciano, to find out what this initiative means to him and his work.

Miguel Luciano, “Pimp My Piragua” (2009) a performative, public art project that commemorates the traditions of Puerto Rican / Latinx street vendors and bike clubs, through a customized pushcart-bicycle made for selling piraguas (shaved ice refreshments) (photo by Jehangir Irani)

In June the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it was launching an initiative to support partnerships for artists working and living in communities within the five boroughs of New York City. Their announcement designates a Civic Practice Partnership as the main component of this initiative, and two artists — choreographer and performance artist Rashida Bumbray, and multimedia visual artist Miguel Luciano — were chosen to inaugurate the project. The initiative also includes a “Civic Practice Seminar,” which is a five-month “experiential learning program” that includes visual artists, musicians, and writers, all of whom are described as “socially mindful in their practice.” Both Bumbray and Luciano will partner with the Met to fulfill the goals of this initiative — the most central of which is, over the course of the next year, to create their own projects that will act as bridges between the museum and the communities with which they work.

Hyperallergic spoke with Miguel Luciano about this partnership, his feelings and thoughts about the Met Museum, and what civic practice means to him.

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Seph Rodney: Thanks for agreeing to talk with me. I wanted to chat with you a little bit about the civic practice partnership.

Miguel Luciano: Sure. Okay.

SR: First, can you tell us what this initiative is about?

ML: For me or for the museum?

SR: For you.

ML: For me, what the project will be about is sort of yet to be determined. But the idea of the residency is really unique in that it really focuses on community-centered practices and artists who are working in communities. Which is different from a residency that people think of typically with an art organization or institution, where one is situated at the institution, creating work in a studio. It’s really not like that at all. It’s really focused on supporting the practices of artists who are already connected to and engaging with their own communities.

In my case, I live in East Harlem and been working with communities here for quite a while. Right now I’m working on a project that commemorates, the activist history of the Puerto Rican community here in East Harlem, specifically looking at the Young Lords — the 50 year anniversary of the Young Lords, which is this year and next year. [I am] looking at the way that our communities, historically, have responded in times of crisis. and this is a project that is in partnership with El Museo Del Barrio.

The larger part of the project is connecting this post-Civil Rights activist history in the Puerto Rican community with what’s happening on the island today, linking these two histories and creating conversations between them. [Now] we’re in sort of our research phase, with this new Met program and the first few months of the residency were set up in a way that would allow us to do research at the institution, research in our own communities, and sort of develop a project or program or series of programs that would culminate sometime during the year.

Miguel Luciano, “Double Phantom / EntroPR” (2017) 1952 Schwinn Phantoms, restored and customized, flags (photo: Jason Wyche)

SR: What do you think about the Met Museum as an institution?

ML: I’ve always been fascinated by the Met as an institution. I think most people are on some level? It’s a massive institution, full of history, and it’s also walking distance from where I live, right? But … I got to know this institution better in the last few years, because this is when Sandra Jackson-Dumont [the head of the museum’s education department] was involved at the Met. My relationship also grew with the Met. I got to do a couple of public programs there. For the first time that I was really engaging with the institution and it was exciting. I ended up talking about work in the Met’s collection in a really critical way, in a way that looked at ways of decolonizing these perspectives of America in the artwork that was housed at the Met Museum at the time on view from the print collections to their American wing … I wasn’t sure how it was going to go but they were super supportive of it and I really appreciated that. It was a really political way of talking about the work that is not the way that museums usually talk about [art].

SR: What you’re telling me is that, your relationship [with] or understanding of the institution has changed over time.

ML: Yep.

SR: I appreciate that. But you’re not exactly telling me what you think about it now.

ML: Well … I think part of me has always thought of the Met, as an institution that is very traditional, Eurocentric, very much one of the elite/elitist institutions in the city, and it holds up that history. It has for a very long time. I think that is dramatically shifting right now and you can feel that shift in a lot of different ways and that’s one of the exciting things for me in all this. But I think that it has been a part of that institutional history for so long.

SR: One more question. The initiative is called a Civic Practice Partnership [ and the Met’s press release explains that the partnership is a “collaborative residency program,” which is the “leading component” on their initiative] and you’ve mentioned a connection with the community, and another term that comes up, which I suppose, means essentially the same is “social practice.” What does civic partnership, community-based, or social practice mean to you?

ML: I guess it means a lot of things. I think in my own work, it doesn’t always manifest in objects and a lot of what I’m thinking about is actually about creating different forms of exchange and supporting different kinds of activities in our community that generate exchanges. I’m also thinking a lot about celebrating the culture that is here and it’s always been here and that the cultural practices of our communities are vital and remain vital. So a lot of what I’m thinking about in my own practice are ways of highlighting, the art and cultural practices that exist in our community every day, focusing on how those things are expressed here locally in my own neighborhood.

Miguel Luciano’s “Pimp My Piragua” project (2017) as part of The Met’s mobile studio at Afropunk (photo by Filip Wolak)

SR: I just want to make sure I get this correct, Miguel. When you say, “those things,” what are “those things”?

ML: I’m thinking about different expressions of art, of music, of dance, of things we do that we have as cultural traditions. I’m very interested in the ways these things are expressed in life and how to create spaces for that expression — not even creating but supporting spaces for that expression! Spaces for those exchanges and again I’m not really sure how this is all going to manifest entirely yet, but in the work I’m currently focused on in my neighborhood that’s about this activist history through the neighborhood and connecting it with activism on the island today (especially since the hurricane). I’m interested in bringing people together who are thinking creatively about resistance: around food, around housing, around education, around health.

Part of this is also looking at the platform of the young lords and how these were platform issues in terms of community organizing activism [and] how a new generation today is moving that forward on the island and in disaster as well. That’s the work I’m already involved in I think will carry over into this experience with the Met: trying to build more links and bridges between our community here, in El barrio, our community on the island and our relationship to a place like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

SR: Okay. Thank you.

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