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Meet Maritza Lacayo of Pérez Art Museum Miami in Downtown Miami

Today we’d like to introduce you to Maritza Lacayo.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Maritza. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I was born and raised right here in Miami, FL, so Miami is home. At La Salle High School, I had a wonderful Art History teacher, Ms. Jurado, who inspired me to study Art History at the university level and that is how my career trajectory “started,” I guess you could say. When it came time to choose a school, I chose to move abroad and attended the American University of Paris for the four full years of undergraduate. The university offers a rigorous and challenging Art History program that also includes museum courses, study trips, and various other components I would not have been able to partake in had I remained in the US for schooling.

After completing my BA in Art History at the American University of Paris, I moved to London and began working toward my MLitt in Modern and Contemporary Art and Art World Practice from the Christie’s Education Program, University of Glasgow. The year and a half in London was wonderful and included much hands-on training and also Curatorial and Registration studies. I wrote my MLitt thesis on André Breton’s “poem-object” artworks from the late thirties and early forties, an idea that I first began to research during university. I graduated with Honors and was then awarded a highly sought after internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. At the PGC, I sharpened my public speaking skills and worked to create a truly unique experience for our visitors. I was so deeply in love with the collection, its history, and its impact on the community that I knew I’d chosen the right field of study.

When the internship came to an end, it was the first time in my life when I had no “next-step” lined up. As many young people feel after their studies come to a close, I was unsure about coming back home. Ironically enough, one of the last papers I wrote for my MLitt courses was about Perez Art Museum Miami. I focused on Miami’s cultural history and wrote from a personal perspective about why I chose to leave the city and study Art History in places that could provide the education I felt I deserved. Miami was not the city where one grew up going to the museum. Unlike New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London, the list goes on–Miami was a place that lacked that strong institutional perspective. Although PAMM had existed previously at the Miami Art Museum and the Center for the Fine Arts, it certainly wasn’t part of my upbringing or schooling. To me, Miami was a place that lacked the workplace I dreamed to work in until PAMM made a new name for itself at its newly constructed waterfront building in Downtown Miami.

I began working at PAMM in 2016 as part of the Visitor Services department. Working part-time at PAMM’s front desk, I got to know the staff, converse with visitors, and learn about the artworks on view. My aspirations were clear from the beginning, I wanted to work in the Curatorial department. As many people already know, Curatorial departments see very little turnaround and there are already very few opportunities in this field to begin with. I took my chances and remained patient. As luck would have it, the job of Curatorial Assistant became available and I applied that very same day. I began working as PAMM’s Curatorial Assistant in March of 2017 and have remained with the department since.

In 2020, I was promoted to Curatorial Assistant and Publications Coordinator, a title that better represented the majority of my responsibilities at PAMM. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is to manage the entire production and editing process of our exhibition catalogues. I also manage the production and editing of all of our wall texts, labels, brochures, and any other additional didactics our visitors have access to within the museum. I have the unique pleasure of working on all of the exhibitions at PAMM, which has also put me in a unique position to tour our visitors throughout the entire museum, upon special request. Working and conversing with our public is certainly one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.

I’ve also begun curating exhibitions at PAMM since 2019. My first project was George Segal: Abraham’s Farewell to Ishmael, a sculpture from PAMM’s permanent collection on display for the first time since its complete restoration. Polyphonic: Celebrating PAMM’s Fund for African American Art opened in February 2020 and was co-organized with Chief Curator, René Morales. This was a wonderful opportunity to work with someone who has been a mentor of mine for years. This exhibition celebrates PAMM’s commitment to the collect, acquire, and exhibit works of art by African American artists.

Has it been a smooth road?
It has not been a smooth road, but I believe that this inherently comes with the Curatorial career path. Opportunities in Curatorial departments are slim. There aren’t many positions in the field to begin with and there are many who are fighting for those few roles. The competition begins when applying for a Master’s degree. Slots in curatorial studies programs are limited and there were only about 30 of us in total when I attended the Christie’s Education Program in London in 2013-14. At PAMM, I worked in the Visitor Services department as a Visitor Services Assistant. This wasn’t my goal but I saw it as the ideal stepping stone, a way to get to know the staff and make a name for myself within the institution. There were days when I became frustrated, thinking that there would never be a role for me in the department I had studied so hard to join.

Ultimately, I saw each day as an opportunity to learn more about the institution, learn more about its staff, and if an opportunity ever presented itself, I would already feel like an integrated part of the team. When the position of Curatorial Assistant became available, I knew that it was my only chance. After a rigorous and difficult interview process, I was chosen as PAMM’s new Curatorial Assistant in March of 2017. The step from Curatorial Assistant to curating my own exhibitions has also been tough. There are only so many slots on what we call the “grid” or exhibition schedule. I had an idea for an exhibition in my back pocket since the day I joined the department and it will finally be realized in early 2021. At cultural institutions such as museums, the progress can be slow and daunting. It has been imperative to speak up about what my goals are and what kind of projects I’d like to work on. In due time, I’ve received the mentorship I’ve always looked for.

Please tell us about Pérez Art Museum Miami.
Pérez Art Museum Miami is Miami’s flagship art museum and collects and exhibits modern and contemporary art. We proudly see ourselves as a place for the Miami community to gather, Miami’s “front porch” so to speak. We see art as a catalyst for genuine human interaction, which is why our educational programming is so rich and robust.

At PAMM, I am the Curatorial Assistant and Publications Coordinator. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is to manage the entire production and editing process of our exhibition catalogues. I also manage the production and editing of all of our wall texts, labels, brochures, and any other additional didactics our visitors have access to within the museum. I have the unique pleasure of working on all of the exhibitions at PAMM, which has also put me in a unique position to tour our visitors throughout the entire museum, upon special request. Working and conversing with our public is certainly one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. I am certainly known for the catalogues that I produce on behalf of the institution and as the primary representative of the department when liaising with other departments within the museum.

I am most proud of the way PAMM has thoughtfully and lovingly committed to collecting, exhibiting, and promoting the work of black and brown artists. We want our community to feel welcome at PAMM, for them to see work on the walls that is representative of the community itself. We have always taken that responsibility seriously. Through the formation of PAMM’s Fund for African American Art, for example, we have acquired historical and contemporary works by African American artists for the PAMM collection–filling in the gaps within the history of art. We see this as a major responsibility for institutions to take on and we are certainly on the forefront of that conversation. I am also incredibly proud of the diversity within the institution’s staff, but specifically the Curatorial department. In 2018, the New York Times labeled PAMM’s Curatorial department the most diverse in the country. Diversity matters because it means that the exhibitions we plan are diverse as well. We all have different backgrounds, stories to tell, and this is reflected in the work we acquire and exhibit.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I do believe that Miami is the perfect city for an institution like PAMM. As a matter of fact, PAMM has flourished in order to serve the Miami community in a unique and personal way. With modern and contemporary art as its focus, PAMM creates a safe space for people to come together, experience the art for themselves, have difficult conversations, and learn from each other. We are proud of the way we relate to our community, we believe that people feel welcome and encouraged to be themselves when they walk through our doors.

I came back to Miami after completing my Master’s degree because I felt that it was a place of opportunity. To work at PAMM at this time is to be a part of something much bigger. Miami is a cultural and artistic hub with much more room for growth. I could have moved to New York or LA in the hopes of joining a Curatorial department at any of their incredible institutions, but there is something much sweeter about coming home and contributing to the building of a unique artistic and cultural community. Especially at an institution that I am incredibly proud to represent and work for.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 1103 Biscayne Blvd.
    Miami, FL 33132
  • Website: pamm.org
  • Phone: 7863455662
  • Email: info@pamm.org

Image Credit:
All images are Courtesy Pérez Art Museum Miami, photo: Lazaro Llanes

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