We finish up our series of posts on East Harlem with a look at El Museo del Barrio, the northernmost institution on Museum Mile (at least until the Africa Center opens). Founded in 1969 by NYC-born artist Raphael Montañez Ortiz, who recognized a need for a museum dedicated to Latino culture and art, El Museo moved to its current location in the Heckscher Building in 1978 and underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation in 2009. The museum's permanent collection features more than 6,500 objects that span eight centuries of Latin American, Caribbean and Latino art, and it mounts temporary exhibits, too. However, with only two galleries, the museum isn't able to showcase that much work at once.
But what El Museo lacks in space, it makes up for in rich family programming like FREE monthly family festivals, and popular annual cultural celebrations like Day of the Dead and the Three Kings Day Parade. And since it's located one block north of the Museum of the City of New York and across the street from Central Park, a visit here can turn into an enriching day-long itinerary.
Since El Museo del Barrio has deep ties to its Spanish Harlem community and serves as a gathering place for all people interested in Latino culture. Due to its modest size and lack of hands-on exhibits, a visit here with kids works best when there are special family activities going on. The third Saturday of every month, the museum hosts Super Sábado, a FREE afternoon festival featuring art workshops, storytelling, tours and entertainment for kids of all ages. While the theme changes each month, some cultural celebrations are repeated annually like Day of the Dead (October), Three Kings Day (December—the parade, which is separate, takes place on a weekday in January), Carnaval (February) and a neighborhood-wide block party (May).
El Museo's Three Kings Day Parade, which marks Epiphany, and its Day of the Dead fest are both hugely popular and extend well beyond the museum. The parade marches through East Harlem on or near January 6. Meanwhile, Día de los Muertos kicks off with a spooky procession from the nearby Dana Discovery Center in Central Park to the museum, followed by skull face painting, a community altar and traditional performances.
Since there isn't a lot of space in the galleries, Super Sábado activities are often held upstairs in one of the classrooms or in the museum's fabulous Pan-Latino cafe, which serves delicious empanadas, tacos and burritos, and has a cozy performance space. There's also a grand 580-seat theater that, frankly, isn't used enough (it's mostly rented out to others). I've been in it a few times and I love looking at the restored Scenes from Children’s Literature murals designed in 1921 by Willy Pogany. They're absolutely stunning.
Also of note: the gift shop (I got some of my best skull earrings there) and, if you have a high schooler, the a cool sounding Youth Council program for teens ages 16 to 20 interested in creating arts programming for their peers.
El Museo del Barrio is located at 1230 Fifth Avenue between 104th and 105th Streets. It's open Tuesday through Saturday. Suggested admission is $9 for adults, $5 for students and free for children under age 12. It's also free to all the third Saturday of every month. With your El Museo admission, you also gain no-cost access to the Museum of the City of New York one block south.
While you're in the neighborhood, be sure to check out the northeastern corner of Central Park, especially the Conservatory Garden and the East 110th Street Playground.
Read all of our posts about exploring East Harlem with kids.