By Dr Cesar Chelala
In recent times, women are increasingly becoming an engine for economic and cultural progress worldwide, oftentimes fighting against disadvantageous circumstances. Such is the case of the owner of a small art gallery in the city of Troy, New York.
In 2001 the city had a new addition to its artistic heritage, the Martinez Gallery. Its owner, Laudelina Martínez, has made reality a long-held aspiration – to open a gallery that would showcase many notable Latin American artists, who are generally underrepresented in New York State.
The Martínez Gallery has been a centre of a variety of cultural activities. It not only exhibits paintings and sculptures, but also hosts literary readings, lectures and art events. The gallery now enjoys an active artistic presence in Troy.
One of Martínez’s goals was to show not only established, but also emerging artists from both Latin America and the US. In addition to artists from several Latin American countries, the gallery has exhibited the work of almost 100 regional artists.
Martínez was born in Puerto Rico, and came to the US to attend college in New York. She studied English and Philosophy, and had a career in higher education policy and administration. She is now an Adjunct Professor of English Composition and Latino Literature at the Hudson Valley Community College.
When she moved from Puerto Rico to New York, Martínez became an avid collector of American and African folk art. Some of her artist friends gave her their work, and it was then that she began seriously collecting and planning to one day open her own space, and of giving opportunities to unknown but talented artists, mainly from Latin America.
Martínez has also lived in San Antonio, Texas and in New York City. In San Antonio, she discovered many Mexican artists and she learned about the differences among Mexican-Americans from California, Texas and New Mexico. It was an incredible education, one that has served her well in her work as a gallery owner.
After living in San Antonio she returned to upstate New York and opened the Martinez Gallery. At the beginning, to those who told her that there were too few Latinos in the Capital District to buy Latino art, Martínez responded that she wanted to widen the appeal of Latino art for people from every background. “After all,” she said, “it’s is not only Chinese who eat Chinese food.”
In 2004, she commuted to New York City, where she worked temporarily at the Museo del Barrio, on Fifth Avenue’s Museum Mile in New York, while maintaining the gallery. In these endeavours she received the enthusiastic support of her husband, Michael Hart, who is retired as editor on the Sports Desk at the Times Union, the major newspaper in Albany.
Martínez had to overcome several obstacles to keep the gallery afloat. Five months after the gallery opened, 9/11 took place. As she says: “Like many others, I didn’t foresee its consequences. It took more than a year for things to settle down to a new normal and for people to renew their interest in art.”
In 2008, water from the upstairs offices flooded her gallery, damaging several pieces of art. That same year, the stock market crashed, leading to an economic crisis and recession from which the gallery is only now recovering.
Originally located in the ground floor of the Cannon Building in downtown Troy, the gallery moved three years ago to the second floor of the same building. With the move to a more compact setting, Martínez is strengthening the development of partnerships and projects with other cultural organisations.
She is currently the President of the Board of Trustees of RCHS, a small museum and cultural institution in Troy, and was appointed by the New York State Governor’s office to serve on the New York State Council of the Arts.
About her work, Martínez says: “I aim to make art a vibrant part of the larger community. In the gallery, more specifically, I want to bring artists and clients together, acting as the middle facilitator in the relationship.”
Several of Martínez’s artists have their works shown in galleries and museums over the world.
Laudelina Martínez’s decision to open her gallery in Troy representing several Latino artists was a strategic one. “I wanted to use my experience with Latino art and be able to offer something original, unique,” she said. It was that belief that allowed her to overcome the multiple obstacles she found on her way. Like a female Don Quixote, she continues her work, undaunted by the windmills.
Dr. Cesar Chelala is a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award, a national award on journalism from Argentina. He recently received the Chaski Award from the Latin American Workshop in New York City