Meet Patty Arteaga
Patty Arteaga is the Latino Pilot Project Coordinator for the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). We met up at Urbana, a restaurant inside the Hotel Palomar in Dupont Circle to chat over delicious chicken meatballs during happy hour. We talked about family, wanting to see more Latinx in the museum field, and how the Getty helped Patty get to where she is today.
Patty was running a little late so I stepped inside of Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe to look around. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular but I just love being inside a bookstore. I was about to leave when I found myself right in front of the philosophy section with a book staring right at me titled, A Little History of Philosophy. My father just a few days prior had asked me to send him any good books on philosophy because he’s decided to take a deeper dive into the field starting with its history. My father means the world to me and I was just so excited at the thought of giving him this little gift.
I also thought it was just too perfect to have this moment today of all days because Patty was also having her own delightful moment with her father but for a completely different reason. Her father had just received his U.S. citizenship. I saw the photos she posted online and how excited she was, something she would share later with me at dinner. Patty’s story was far more worthy of celebration, of course, but I later thought about what family means to Latinx families. Our communities are knit together by families and I know that even the smallest thing I could do for my family, I would do.
Patty is a very bubbly person and I always see her laughing. She’s also a new friend, one I have known for perhaps less than a year. We have only gone out together a handful of times, and this would be the first where it was just us two. There was a moment during our conversation where she was nearly brought to tears, speaking on DACA. My heart broke for her because I understand how heartbreaking these times are when families are being threatened to be torn apart. But I also saw a glimpse into Patty that was new to me, a side that only further proved how compassionate and kind hearted she is. But don’t let the tears fool you into doubting her fortitude. She is a hard worker with three jobs, “the life of a contractor” she says.
Patty’s first job is project coordinator for NASA’s Universe of Learning, a program that provides resources to educators and museums on subjects like astrophysics, and making it more accessible to a larger public, with the Smithsonian Institution. She helps provide Smithsonian resources to Smithsonian Affiliates all over the country, and the world. Her second job is a gallery educator at the National Portrait Gallery and finally, she works with SITES, where she is currently gathering photographs for a new exhibit that focuses on rural change in America in the past 100 years titled, Crosswords. All of these are new contracts that she has received this past summer.
Being a contractor is always a risk. It doesn’t bring the security and stability of a permanent position and you’re given no health insurance. But she is not alone, especially around the Smithsonian where it is more common than not to be a contracted employee. When I ask her where her career path is headed, where she sees herself and in what role, her response keeps all this in mind, “I thought I would be more under the education route, which I am, but it’s more of a part time gig. Right now I am all over the place and just gaining experience as much as I can for a position I don’t know or what that’s called. But my whole reasoning to be in this field is I want to see more Latino faces and it doesn’t matter what shade they come in...I want them to be exposed to something that they may not think is for them.”
She graduated from George Washington University’s museum education graduate program in 2016. So it doesn’t surprise me that her view on museums is through a lens of learning and teaching. She seems to have always been busy with multiple jobs. Right after graduating, in addition to being the Latino Pilot Project Coordinator for SITES, she was a weekend educator at the National Portrait Gallery, and a museum teacher for Tudor Place. Her work ethic she says is inherited from her parents who came from Mexico to California and were incredibly supportive of her museum ambitions, despite never having really been taken to museums as a child. “I had very supportive parents...They saw me really into museums and my education always came first. They would do anything to help me and that anything includes money. I realize that not everyone has that, not because they don’t have parents that are not willing but because they can’t. [I] Always have to recognize that financial help because that was a boost but since the day I arrived in DC I have not stopped working.”
Patty says she can’t pinpoint a single momentous occasion where the light bulb went off, “I remember just enjoying it so much that it would clear my head. I...felt really at peace when school would get a little hectic.” She does, however, recall a single moment in her youth, when an anchor set itself firm in the museum’s grounds, although she didn’t realize it at the time. She was ten years old and begging her mom to take her to the LA County Natural History Museum, right next to a popular rose garden where, “you take your quince photos and take your abuelitos.” A young Patty was in the museum when she saw an object from Mexico behind a display case validating the very existence of her culture. That powerful moment would not immediately translate itself to her at a young age but the feeling of it would stay. “The power of that interaction, even though that interaction was, like, ten minutes or so...it changed my life. That’s why I’m here. Because I always went back to that feeling, a feeling I never got anywhere else.”
Patty received her undergraduate degree from the University of California in Los Angeles, majoring in anthropology though leaning more towards archeology for little while. After going to Peru to do field research, she found herself focusing more on the change of meaning to objects over time. She also both interned and volunteered at UCLA’s museum working with artifact collections. It was when she began volunteering at the museum that the memory so long ago swiftly came back and the pieces all came together. The summer she graduated from UCLA would bring about another opportunity that would change the course of her career, an internship with the Getty.
The Getty Multicultural Internship is a program founded in 1993 whose mission is to encourage diversity in museums and the visual arts. They provide workshops, professional development, and essentially expose students to a multitude of opportunities to engage with professionals and learn more about the field. Patty completed the internship and has since credited them for where she is now. “You only really think of museums as a curator position and it wasn’t until that workshop that I saw all the different things you can actually do at a museum...They are really trying to cultivate this sense of leadership within this community.” After seeing a LACMA educator present during one of the workshops, Patty knew that this was the route she wanted to go in.
So now in Washington, D.C. building connections and keeping busy, going back to the question of where she sees herself headed in her career she responds, “Either because of price or subject matter, or many of those barriers that we put up ourselves, too, in our way of thinking that it’s not for us, I just want to see more people interact with the museum and use its resources for whatever purpose you want in life. How do I get there and what title would I have? I have no idea, but that’s…I just want to see more brown faces.” ✻
For more information on the Getty's Multicultural Internship, visit their website here.