Students fear for future of annual altar project

By Luis Castilla

For Chicano Studies students, their long-running Day of the Dead altar project is a cause they must fight for every year.

The Vincent Price Art Museum has celebrated The Day of the Dead and Latino culture for the last 16 years with the Annual Día De Los Muertos Student Altar Exhibition.

For the past four years, however, it has been an uphill battle to keep the exhibit at VPAM said Angelita Rovero, professor of Chicano studies.

“Every year, we pretty much have to make a case for it,” Rovero said. Last year, the exhibit was held in Los Angeles Pierce College, 30 miles from ELAC. 

The exhibit, which features Chicano studies’ student-made altars honoring noteworthy Latinos, received criticism from Kerrin McMahan, dean of instructional services in social sciences.

McMahan said in an email to interim president Raul Rodriguez that the altars are all identical in format, calling them “amateurishly executed.”

“In my opinion, this display is an embarrassment. I see no educational or artistic value in continuing it after this year,” McMahan said.

McMahan has since apologized for her comments.

“I made some ill-considered remarks which caused hurt feelings. I regret doing so and I hope the opportunity I have been given for self-reflection will help me be more mindful in the future,” McMahan said.

VPAM director, Pilar Tompkins Rivas, could not be reached for comment.

Rovero said that there are guidelines students must follow when making the altars, but everything else is up to the students.

The altars were also criticized for featuring the same celebrities and colors every year.

Rovero and her Chicano Studies 054 class work with the families of the celebrities to create the altars.

Actress Lupe Ontiveros and artist Gilbert “Magu” Lujan have both been honored in the exhibit for the past six years.

Their children, Elias Ontiveros and Naiche Lujan, respectively said that they support the continuation of the exhibit.

Francisco Rodriguez, Los Angeles Community College District chancellor, said he was proud to have the altars in ELAC.

Several students who worked on the altars have written letters to president Rodriguez in support of continuing the exhibit.

“It would be a shame for not only the students, but also our community to be deprived of this experience,” Chicano Studies 054 student Natalie Hernandez said.

“Being a part of this class and having professor Rovero as an instructor has made me feel more connected to my culture,” another Chicano Studies 054 student, Anglei Ibañez said.

Richard Montoya, son of poet and artist Jose Montoya, also wrote a letter showing his support for the exhibit.

“ELAC has been a historic epicenter for nuestra raza (our race). The very unspoken definition of safe space,” Montoya said. “We should not undermine that because of our subjectivity.”

There has been no official statement on whether or not the Día De Los Muertos Student Altar Exhibition will be discontinued from being displayed in VPAM or if it will be moved to another campus again.

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