Museum appoints first Latina director

By Stephanie Garibay

The Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College has appointed Pilar Tompkins Rivas as its new director, making her the first Latina to oversee the museum since it opened in 1957.

“It’s a very exciting moment for me and my family.

“I live in this community and I’ve been a fan of the Vincent Price Art Museum for a number of years,” Rivas said.

Rivas applied for the position in late October, and the change became official in late March.

“The hiring process is slow. They want to make sure they find the right person for the position, so I didn’t want to keep my hopes up in case it didn’t happen. I didn’t want to be disappointed,” Rivas said.

Before being appointed director of the VPAM, Rivas was the coordinator of curatorial initiatives for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“When you think about the students that attend ELAC and what kind of programing can take place here, it is meaningful to have a person of color in this position. I’m really honored to fill this role,” Rivas said.

Rivas was born and raised in Dallas, Texas and moved to Los Angeles 15 years ago.

“I see us as having so much potential to grow. It’s a really great foundation with great history. I’d like to grow our capacity to develop ambitious exhibitions.

“I’d like to grow our collection, our museum’s connection to the campus and with the different departments here at ELAC,” Rivas said.

Rivas has helped organize dozens of exhibitions throughout the U.S., Colombia, Egypt, France and Mexico.

Rivas started working with ELAC students in 2009, when she was asked to be a guest juror for a student show at the VPAM.

The winner she chose was Star Montana, who now has a solo exhibition called “Teardrops and three dots” up at the VPAM.

“It’s been wonderful to see how she’s grown as an artist. I was also a Getty (Foundation)  Multicultural Undergraduate Internship pup leader in the past. Star was part of that group, as were other ELAC students,” Rivas said.

Rivas has also worked with ELAC students in the art history department during her time at LACMA.

Before appointing Rivas as the director, the museum had been without leadership since last summer when former director Karen Rapp left to work on independent projects.

“I have a lot of ideas for exhibitions, but there other things we can also do, such as building an education program that connects with the students and the staff on campus.

“We have to build our collections. And, of course, there is fundraising,” Rivas said.

Rivas hopes to bring diversity to the VPAM and inspire students to achieve their goals.

Rivas said that last year there was a report in United States that showed that only three percent of top positions in museums are occupied by Latinos.

“It’s not just about me, but it’s about breaking through a glass ceiling, both as a woman and a Chicana. 

“That’s a very discouraging number. So, I do feel that I have a responsibility to do the best that I can for this museum, but also to open doors for other people to come in behind me,” Rivas said.

The VPAM was established in the 1950s when actor Vincent Price donated pieces from his art collection to ELAC.

The gallery was housed in different areas throughout the campus until 2011 when it was moved to its current location, a 40,000 square foot building.

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