Karen Vidangos, also known as “Latina in Museums,” is a digital strategist and advocate for Latinx art and artists. As founder of the Latinx Art Collective, Karen uses social media to explore underrepresented perspectives in the art world and highlight the Latinx community invested in these cultural institutions. She is currently the Social Media Manager for the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
AF: Hi Karen! We are so excited to chat with you. First thing’s first, we want to know more about your upbringing. Where are you from and what are the arts communities like there?
KV: I grew up in the DC-metro area; born in Virginia, raised in Maryland, and went to school and worked in D.C. The arts community is vibrant and tight knit. I had the luxury of having my pick of museums and arts spaces to go to. The National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Phillips Collection, all of the Smithsonian museums…it was a playground if you were an art history student.
I loved visiting the National Gallery of Art, finding a quiet space to sit, and contemplating the beauty around me. I could never leave without paying a visit to Daniel in the Lions’ Den by Peter Paul Rubens (although sadly it is no longer on view).
AF: Please tell us a little more about yourself, when did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in this industry?
KV: I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the arts until much later than I would have liked. Art was always in my life in some shape or form, but not necessarily as a career option.
My parents emigrated to the United States in the 80s and as new immigrants to the country, they wanted my sister and I to have a job with financial security, so I went to the University of Maryland as a government and politics major.
I lasted a year before switching to studio art in my sophomore year (my parents were thrilled. /s), but dropped out after my third year when the financial crisis of 2007-08 hit.
It wasn’t until many years later that I decided I wanted to go back to finish my bachelor’s degree in art history. Even then, while I knew I wanted to work in museums, I had no idea what I would do or how. This led to pursuing my master’s degree in museum studies where I began to sharpen my thinking around the importance of representation in cultural institutions and how social media has become a democratic space to explore the arts.
AF: What was your first ever job? What is an important lesson from it that has carried with you?
KV: The first job I ever had was my senior year in high school as an attorney’s assistant. He had his own law practice and I helped with all the administrative work. I remember enjoying it a lot because he was friendly and relaxed. My job was mainly writing letters, and organizing documents for case filings.
That skill has certainly helped me when balancing multiple campaigns and projects, and answering emails, texts, and DMs for three different accounts.
AF: As Latina in Museums, you’ve created a digital space dedicated to highlighting the Latinx community, exploring underrepresented perspectives in the museum field. We would love to know more about Latina in Museums and how it started!
KV: Latina in Museums is a moniker; just who I identify as, and in a way, staking a claim in historically white art institutions by doing so.
I was scrolling through Instagram one morning and realized that even online, where the digital space isn’t supposed to be affected by the historical barriers to art that exist in museum institutions, a dominant, white narrative persisted. Black and brown art influencers didn’t populate my feed nearly as often. It was then that I decided I wanted to create a platform to highlight, elevate, and talk about Latinx artists, and art workers.
I went through a few different ideas, but in the end, Latina in Museums is just one woman being brutally open about her experiences, mistakes, successes, loopholes, and insights in the hopes that it will help guide and inform the Latinx community interested in pursuing careers in the arts.
AF: Furthermore, you founded Latinx Art Collective! What are your hopes for the Collective, and what do you wish to accomplish this year?
KV: I have so many ideas for the Latinx Art Collective! For now though, I want to keep growing the database and get as many Latinx artists as possible signed up. The mission of the Latinx Art Collective is to bring Latinx art to the forefront by connecting people with the artists, so the larger the database, the stronger the network.
AF: As the Social Media Manager for the Guggenheim, what are some social media recommendations you have for others pursuing social media as a career?
KV: Make sure to put together a portfolio of your work (mine is on Squarespace) and add a link to it on your resume. It’s a good way to keep track of your accomplishments and showcase your work to potential clients.
AF: What does the day-to-day look like for you? What does a great work day look like?
KV: I am on social media for an ungodly amount of time, so the majority of it is spent researching, writing, scheduling, and monitoring content for those platforms.
A great work day is when I get to participate in a great event or program in the museum. Not too long ago, I spent a day seeing the behind-the-scenes prep work and the resulting fashion show event at the Guggenheim for the Nick Cave program, The Color Is: I’mPOWER. That was a lot of fun and it was such a wonderful night.
AF: Many people in the art industry juggle multiple jobs, which can often appear (and truly be) overwhelming. How do you manage having your plate full, and what are some tips you have for others?
KV: I manage the Guggenheim accounts, my accounts, and the Latinx Art Collective. It can be hard balancing all that, plus a social life, but what keeps me sane is my two-year-old pug, Marcel, and setting strict boundaries.
As much as I want to go to every event and see every show, prioritizing rest is non-negotiable. There will always be more openings, fairs, events, and dinners because the art world never stops. Plus, Marcel demands playtime as well.
AF: As you know, Art Frankly is a community that cares about job transparency and supporting fellow art professionals. What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
KV: I used to be a shy and introverted person. To an extent, I still am. As someone who built a career online this is fine, but do not be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and make genuine connections.
I’ve met many amazing people over the years who I now consider good friends, and some of whom have radically influenced my career. My career would look very different if I hadn’t met these wonderful people.
AF: How do you think the art world can become more transparent?
KV: Almost every art institution is incorporating elements of DEAI into their core values but this work isn’t complete unless we recognize that pay discrepancy affects communities of color the most. We cannot advocate for equity in museums if we aren’t paying art workers a fair, living wage.
AF: Karen, thank you so much for participating in Frank Talks, it has been a delight to chat with you! To finish off, we’re curious: If you could own work by 5 different artists/craftspeople, who would be in your collection?
KV: Ana Mendieta, Remedios Varo, Firelei Báez, Nina Chanel, and Cecilia Vicuña. What a dream!