National Museum of Mexican Art
A first-voice perspective
While many museums today are struggling with questions of inclusion and representation, the National Museum of Mexican Art is one of America’s only first-voice museums — its exhibitions not only showcase Mexican art and artists, but are conceptualized and realized by Mexican curators and directors. Through its rich visual and performing arts programs, high quality education resources, and significant permanent collection, the Museum expands representation of Mexican culture and its people in deep and intimate ways — not only in America, but in the world.
In order to lead the conversation locally, nationally and internationally, the National Museum of Mexican Art partnered with AREA 17 to reimagine their website. The aim: to create a digital experience that would express the important work they do to educate, empower, reflect, celebrate and transform the general public’s understanding of Mexican identity, culture, and expression.
More than just galleries to exhibit artwork, the National Museum of Mexican Art is a place to express and experience Mexican identity. Through its work, the organization has expanded the role of the museum: to act as a reflector, a gatherer, a platform, an educator and an anchor.
For the digital experience to truly embody their mission in the world we needed to go beyond words and images in order to interact with and impact audiences’ lives. To achieve this, we helped the Museum define brand values to guide product content and features that capture the organization’s distinct mission while engaging users in useful and powerful ways.
In close collaboration with the Museum’s team, we worked to embed Mexican representation within the organization’s visual design system, with the aim to represent Mexican identity in a nuanced and in-depth way. Many design decisions were inspired by the ancient, spiral glyph that is found in the Museum’s logo. The font we selected to anchor the design system, Canela, was drawn by Mexican designer Miguel Reyes. The earthy, muted color palette was inspired by the Mexican landscape, and mirrors the color of the walls in the Museum’s physical space. We sought to include the faces of artists and the Museum’s staff across the digital experience, highlighting the Mexican community and conveying pride in its artistic heritage.
Since its founding in 1982, the National Museum of Mexican Art has represented the Mexican community from its own point of view and in its own voice. Through our partnership, we helped the Museum to create a digital presence that not only speaks to, but advances its mission in the world — a website sin fronteras (without borders), that invites communities in Chicago, the United States, Mexico, and in the world, to better understand, celebrate and engage with Mexican art and identity.
“We were impressed with the work AREA 17 put into really understanding who the National Museum of Mexican Art is, what we do, and what makes us different. On the site, Mexican art and culture is represented both through artwork and the people who create and present it.” — Barbara Engelskirchen
The Museum’s seminal collection includes more than 18,000 pieces, dating back from Ancient Mexico to present. We wanted to build an experience to expose the multifacetedness of Mexican culture, and expand audiences’ definitions of art.
By establishing user pathways to explore different forms of art — from mediums that are considered traditional like painting and works on paper, to Folk Art, Literature, and Textile — we elevated artwork that is often omitted from the Eurocentric canon. We also helped the Museum to more seamlessly incorporate their performing arts programming into their collection by highlighting live events within exhibition feature pages.
To reflect the institution’s role not only as a museum, but as an educator and community builder, we built different content types to highlight the Museum’s unique programming and resources.
The Museum’s gatherings, such as the annual Sor Juana Festival, are in many ways unique to the organization, bringing people together outside of gallery walls around art, performance and community. We focused on creating an inviting experience to help audiences understand, navigate and participate in festivals, by bringing together their schedules, artists, performances and educational resources into one easily navigable page.
The Museum also wanted to highlight the expansive educational resources they offer to teachers, students and families interested in exploring and learning about different facets of Mexican art and culture. We equipped staff with a toolkit to easily translate lesson plans, activities, and other resources into one accessible page, and called attention to educational content across the site by highlighting educational resources on colored cards.
In addition, pages for events, exhibitions, art, and artists all have a translation toggle so they can be read both in Spanish and English.