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In this document, Tomás Ybarra-Frausto provides a brief overview of the conditions and events that precipitated the development of Chicano art, beginning with the origins of the Chicano political movement of the 1960s. He suggests that El Movimiento, as it is known, reacted against the exclusion, yet forced Americanization of Chicanos living in the United States and served to counter monolithic views of American society and culture. Ybarra-Frausto emphasizes the critical role played by visual artists, writers, musicians, and filmmakers in forwarding the political message of El Movimiento, which led to the development of an aesthetic program that underscored the social function of art. In addition to stressing the need for a socially engaged artistic practice, early Chicano cultural workers devised ways of establishing networks of support and information outside of mainstream art institutions and created alternative exhibition spaces within the community, encouraging interaction between artists and their audiences through the integration of art with social events. Ybarra-Frausto notes that the early participants in the Chicano Movement stressed the importance of a close-knit, coherent community in which social and cultural workers joined forces to develop “a new art of the people” based on shared experiences and artistic traditions. Nevertheless, the author explains that the later generation of the 1990s, diverges from the ideological underpinnings of El Movimiento, rejecting notions of what he calls “cultural coherence and fixity” in favor of practices that continue to reinvent themselves formally and thematically as the result of an increasingly globalized world and the need for artists to negotiate their place within this new context.
Ybarra-Frausto is a scholar who has provided leadership in the area of Chicano art since the 1970s and who has influenced subsequent generations of scholars. This 1992 essay was written for a two-part symposium, “Different Voices: A Social, Cultural, and Historical Framework for Change in the American Art Museum” that was published by the Association of Art Museum Directors.