Minnesota’s Best Museums, According to Latinx Artist Luis Fitch
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A hotbed of culture and creativity, Minnesota’s Twin Cities (and beyond) make for an artistic getaway. Here, one of the state’s local creative treasures shares his top picks of where to go and what to see.
“I'm like an ambassador of culture and arts and visuals and designs for Mexicans here in the United States,” says Luis Fitch, founder of the Minneapolis-based, award-winning agency UNO Branding. “I want other people to understand my culture through my art and my communications and my services.” His recent line of candles and home goods for Target inspired by the Day of the Dead, and a collection of postage stamps for the U.S. Postal Service that have already become collectors’ items, are just the latest examples of the ways his cultural heritage has inspired his work.
He started the UNO agency some two decades ago at a pivotal point in U.S. history, he notes, when for the first time Latinos surpassed African Americans to become the biggest minority in the States, according to the U.S. Census.
It makes perfect sense that Fitch has made a career out of exploring cross-cultural art. The fine artist and advertising guru grew up in Tijuana, just across the border from San Diego, before crossing over to the States for art school, eventually landing in Minneapolis, where he founded his current agency.
Today, UNO proudly provides cross-cultural communication and branding services for more than just the Latinx community, reflecting the growing diversity of communities in Minnesota. “One of the largest populations of Hmong lives here in the Twin Cities and the largest population of Somalis in the United States also lives here,” notes Fitch, and his agency helps brands engage with them. “We are the only agency that does this kind of multicultural work in Minnesota. We cross cultures for the best from each side. We look at food, architecture, our heroes, music, and of course, we look at art.”
Read on as he acts as tour guide with his personal insights while showing off the diverse offerings of museums in the city and state he’s proudly called home since 1995.
Start out with the heavy-hitters.
If you only have one or two days in the Twin Cities, the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Walker Art Center are not to be missed, says Fitch. Start at the Minneapolis Institute of Art for a day of the classics, masters and contemporary art.
“Not only is it two blocks away from our office, but it is also next door to MCAD, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, one of the largest and most famous design schools in town.” Fitch likes to go on a Saturday morning, get a coffee across the street and then go to the MCAD library that's free and open to the public. “It's one of the largest here in the Twin Cities that has design books and art books from all over the world. Often, I'm the only one there, so I feel like the whole library is just for myself,” he says.
A hundred feet away there’s the Minneapolis Institute of Art — just cross the beautiful patio and you’ll find one of the largest collections of Chinese work, from furniture to sculptures to drawings.
“They also have a large collection of the classic masters to contemporary American masters, and lately they’ve opened a new space for local artists,” says Fitch. “They're trying to push a lot of the multicultural demographics here to have opportunities, because in the past it was very male- and white-oriented. They do a lot of events for the community. You can get lost there — it's a nice big place, full of collections from classics to design and furniture.”
After exploring the classics, immerse yourself in contemporary art at the world-renowned Walker Art Center. You’ll know you’re in the right spot when you see the sculpture of the iconic, giant cherry resting on a spoon, located in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in front of the museum. Fitch points out that Spoonbridge and Cherry, by Claes Oldenburg and his wife Coosje van Bruggen, is seen as a symbol of Minnesota.
“I think it's the best museum in the Twin Cities,” says Fitch, who was familiar with the museum long before he ever stepped foot in it. During his university days, he recalls, he studied various progressive exhibits presented at the Walker. “They're really well known for bringing international vanguard, well-established alternative artists — not just painting, but film, design, architecture…they get into everything.
He continues, "They're always ahead of the game. So, you might go and see a show from an artist that you've never heard of, and then a year later you are reading an article about the best art show of the year in The New York Times, and it's that same show that you went to and experienced a year before. That's what they stand for since day one. They push the envelope — they make you think.” (There’s also a lauded music fest that kicks off summer seasons, Rock the Garden, with emerging bands from around the country.)
In addition to its exhibits, the museum does a lot of programming specifically for families and kids, which keeps it close to Fitch’s heart. “My son grew up visiting the Walker. Since he was 4 years old, I've taken him there. And we've been members of that place since he was a kid.” Professionally, Fitch and his company have done a lot of work for the museum, too, “for educational purposes for the Latinx community.”
If you get hungry, Fitch recommends a stop at the museum’s restaurant and café, Cardamom, which overlooks the sculpture garden, for a Mediterranean- and Aegean-inspired bite before you move on to your next destination.
Exploring architectural marvels and art all over the world
Another of Fitch’s favorites, the Weisman Art Museum, focuses on architecture — a passion of his since the very beginning. (He studied architecture before switching to branding and advertising). “I consider architecture to be the mother of all the arts,” says Fitch. “And I always get a smile when I see that museum from the outside, because it was Frank Gehry's first twisted metal museum before he did the Guggenheim Bilbao — it was almost like a prototype.”
As the museum is part of and located on the University of Minnesota campus, the shows there tend to be more regional and more academic — but fascinating all the same. Fitch is excited to see how the programming develops now that the museum has just appointed a new director who’s a Latinx woman, Alejandra Peña-Gutiérrez.
“She's from Mexico," he says, "with great experience in Latin American art, something that we need. We need to be diversified, to see other cultures from different perspectives, not just our own.
He continues, “It's the same with universities — they're changing. They're bringing more Latinas into their schools and as upper management and upper directors, so things are changing little by little.”
For an entirely different cultural immersion, explore the art of Muscovite Russia, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, its former republics and post-Soviet Russia at The Museum of Russian Art. “This one is quite interesting,” says Fitch. “It's one of the biggest and best in the United States.”
The opportunity to delve into the culture spawned by a communist state fascinates Fitch. “They do a really good job of not only exhibiting this type of work," notes Fitch, "but explaining it from their point of view. To me, that's important because I see other cultures and different perspectives and different ways of living in other parts of the world, so I can compare it against mine, and then the one here that I live in the United States."
He continues, "Those are the best ways for me to create cross-cultural thinking and perspectives from different points of view in different parts of the world. It's not Westernized thinking; it's very Russian, and it's really quite unique and interesting.”
He’s also a big fan of the American Swedish Institute, a hub that encompasses a museum, a cultural education center, a café, a destination store and an historic mansion. There’s a significant population with Swedish ancestry in the state, though many are fifth- and sixth-generation at this point, notes Fitch, and this place offers insight into their culture. The original owner of the mansion that houses part of the Institute was owned by a Swede who started the first Swedish newspaper in the Twin Cities. The architectural makeup of the place is particularly interesting, as it is a mashup of old and new.
“The house was designed by a lot of Italian architects and the inside is just incredible,” says Fitch. “And they added another part that’s extremely modern. So, you've got the contrast of old and modern.”
Don’t miss FIKA, a coffee shop serving authentic Swedish food, and a great library and bookstore. The holiday season is a great time to visit, as “they go all the way out for Christmas,” says Fitch. “It's really beautiful. You get the snow in December and it's not super cold yet, and that house looks like a castle, so outside and inside it's just beautiful.” But this place is worth visiting in any season, says Fitch, as they have “incredible shows all year round that you don't expect coming from Sweden or even from the United States.”
Family fun in St. Paul, Prince’s house, and a delicious day trip to Austin
“They’re each very well known around the world," explains Fitch, "and both have partnerships with other museums around the world, in which they exchange their exhibits. They’re both very interactive. You can do both in a few hours. I highly recommend each of them.”
Pro tip: there’s a classic East Coast-style metal-sided diner just a block away called Mickey’s. “They've done a lot of films there and it's quite famous for greasy breakfasts. When my son was young, I would take him to have pancakes there and then we’d go to the Children’s Museum, and he loved it.”
Music fans will want to make a pilgrimage to Paisley Park, Prince’s home and studio in Chanhassen.
“The guy was a genius,” says Fitch, stating the obvious. “If you're coming from out of town, and if you're into music, it’s a must. That was his house, that was his studio, that's where he partied. That was the place.”
Just an hour-and-forty-minute drive from Minneapolis, feast your eyes on the SPAM® Museum in charming downtown Austin.
“The product headquarters are there,” says Fitch. “It's a great one for a family visit. There's a lot of interactive and cool stuff for the kids to enjoy.”
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