After just 18 months, the director of New York City’s El Museo del Barrio has resigned amid reported financial turmoil plaguing one of the nation’s most influential Latino museums.
The museum was not open Monday to return phone calls, but Aguilar’s resignation was confirmed by Tony Bechara, the chairman of the museum’s board, in an interview with The New York Times on Friday.
“We are in the process of finding a replacement,” Bechara said. “That’s all I know. We have ended the relationship.”
Before taking the reins of the museum in September 2011, Aguilar served as the vice president and senior specialist in Latin American art at the legendary auction house Christie’s. Before that, from 1998 to 2006, she had worked as a curator at the Museo.
When appointed to the top post she replaced Julián Zugazagoitia, who is credited for substantially increasing El Museo’s budget, endowment and visitors in the almost eight years he led.
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El Museo del Barrio was founded in 1969 by Raphael Montanez Ortiz, an educator and activist, primarily as a museum dedicated to Puerto Rican culture. Since then it has grown to showcase all of Latin America with over 6,500 objects that span more than 800 years of the region's art.
Aguilar, 56, took over El Museo a couple of years after it underwent its largest renovation project, which added more public and gallery spaces. But since then the museum has substantially cut its operating hours, from six days a week to four. And in January, the Times reports, it laid off eight of its 41 workers in an effort to keep up with the $5.3 million annual budget. The museum has also asked employees to take furloughs.
The museum nor Aguilar have given a reason for her resignation.
According to the museum, attendance has increased from 20,000 to over 250,000 annual visitors in the past decade. Aguilar had expressed optimism about the “astounding” number of visitors to El Museo in an interview with Fox News Latino in 2011.
“We also want to expand on projects we’ve done in the past, and I have many plans I want to explore in the future,” she said.
“I’m extremely proud that I was chosen to be its next director, I pinch myself everyday,” Aguilar emphasized. “This is a great opportunity to work with a great team.”