May 11, 2015 10:44AM
By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman
As executive director of El Museo Latino, Magdalena Garcia pours her heart into the museum she founded. She can’t help it; art isn’t just her work, it’s her life.
“It’s always about the art,” she says. “This isn’t something I just go do for eight hours, it’s a way of life.”
Garcia’s family moved to Omaha when she was nine, but returned to visit her artist aunt and grandmother each summer in Mexico City, providing her lots of cultural inspiration.
“Art was always part of our lives,” she says. “We’d go to the museum, ballet, theater—I remember grandmother cleaning on Saturday mornings with opera music blasting. None of it was ever foreign to me. That’s why I believe it’s so important to expose children to different art forms.”
Garcia frequents the symphony, opera, and museums in Omaha, and when she travels she’s always investigating local museums and culture.
“I love research. I love to learn new things, and one thing takes you 50 other places and then you come back around,” says Garcia, motioning in a circle.
Skeptical she could make a living as an artist, Garcia pursued related interests to situate herself in the museum field. She volunteered at the Joslyn Art Museum while earning an art history degree from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and working full time in human resources for Northern Natural Gas. She relocated to Houston when the company’s headquarters moved there and later used severance pay as a springboard for graduate school.
“I liked what I was doing,” Garcia says, “but over time I realized I just really wanted to work in a museum. It could be human resources—but in a museum.”
While seeking an internship, Garcia noted there were only three Latino museums in the country. Despite that early ’90s stat, she found a common, burgeoning interest in serving a growing Latino demographic.
“Why not Omaha?” she asked herself. And with that, the seed was planted for El Museo Latino, which Garcia opened in 1993 on a shoestring budget anchored by her own elbow grease.
Today El Museo Latino is one of 12 U.S. Latino museums, including one in Puerto Rico.
“None of us really know when that last moment of our lives will come, but I didn’t want to wonder: ‘Could I have tried it? Should I have tried it?’” says Garcia.
Garcia did traditional Mexican folk dancing for years, and continues to teach it at the museum. She also enjoys gastronomy, with a love for Italian, Chinese, Thai, and Mexican cuisines, and says she loves to “cook, experiment, taste.
“My other love is tennis,” she says. Garcia also adores swimming, and has been playing racquetball and weightlifting—“just for variety.”
“I’m always inventing new stuff to do, but making time for the things I love is important,” she says. “I think you have to find something that you really enjoy. When it comes to being active, I just want to get out there and have some fun. I want to go play.”