Latina in the Art World

ArtSuppliesIris Cahill is the Coordinator of Docents and Tours at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas. The museum is well known for its collections of European and Latin American Art, and Iris, who has studied art for most of her life, is well versed in its artwork. She has become a prominent figure at the well-established art institution.

However, her rise to career and personal success was not an easy one. She faced doubts and struggles from the time she was small. She was raised in Puerto Rico by her single mother. Iris’s father had left the family when her little sister was just a few months old. She would never see or speak to him again.

Nonetheless her youth was not an unhappy one. Her mother and grandparents were dedicated to her upbringing, and they encouraged creativity from the time she was small, giving her art supplies like clay and colored pencils and also buying her violin and classical guitar lessons.

As a teen, she moved with her mother and sister to Hawaii, where she volunteered with the local community arts program, helping to design materials and organize events. At 17, while still in high school, she took introductory art classes at a junior college.

Thinking back on those years she says, “high school is about figuring out who you are and building those tools accordingly. I fell in love with being creative. Art is timeless. Art connects all cultures throughout history.”

Cultivating her love for art in her Introduction to Painting and Introduction to Sculpture classes, she decided to pursue a Bachelor in Fine Arts at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She then returned to Puerto Rico as an entrepreneur. There she started her own freelance graphic design business, designing book covers and websites among other things. Though she enjoyed her work, she felt instinctively that she was not yet finished pursuing her love of art. She followed her gut and decided to pursue a Masters in Art History at the prestigious Boston University.

But not everyone was as excited about her decision as she was. Friends and family discouraged her from pursuing a master’s degree. “What are you going to do with a Master’s in Art History?” She was often asked.  Iris entered the program nonetheless. She knew what she loved to do. Looking back she says: “If you are passionate and curious about something you can make it work for you.”

While in school, she worked at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts as a Gallery Lecturer. Once she graduated she secured the position of Coordinator of Docents and Tours at the Blanton Museum of Art where she still works today. She says her favorite part of her job is teaching people about the artwork: creating a personal connection between the viewer and the work, and changing people’s minds about art.

Still Iris dreams about the future, and how to evolve in her pursuit of art. She says that she would like to further explore art’s role in psychology and counseling. She also wants to work to expose more teenagers to art. She has a message for young girls interested in learning more about their own passions: “Opportunity is out there for teenagers.” The Blanton Museum itself welcomes volunteers of all ages. The museum is open free to the public and stays open late with dance and music performances, Spanish tours, and even yoga in the galleries on the third Thursday of the month!

This summer, the museum opens a new exhibition entitled “Impressionism in the Caribbean”, featuring Puerto Rican painter Francisco Oller. Iris encourages Latinitas in the area to check out the exhibit or to just come by and say hello! For those Latinitas outside of Austin, she encourages them to check out art exhibits in their area. Most of all she wants to remind girls of the importance of exploring their passions.

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