The Fort Wayne Museum of Art invites families to observe and learn about Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) at a celebration Oct. 28.
Celebrated in Mexico and many parts of Latin America, Dia de los Muertos is a festive time when family members remember and honor their dearly departed and the continuity of life after death. The holiday has evolved from a blend of Meso-American and Christian cultures.
At the heart of the celebration are the Day of the Dead altars, said Charles Shepard, CEO and director of FWMoA.
Each year, the museum issues an open call for entries. Community members have the opportunity to propose an altar design that’s meaningful to their family or a cause. When it comes to selecting altar designs for the exhibition, sincerity weighs more heavily than artistic talent, Shepard said.
“The key thing for us is judging the sincerity of the work, of the effort. Is this something you really have your heart in?” he said.
The exhibition, on display Oct. 26 through Nov. 11, features a series of artist- and family-made altars honoring deceased loved ones or groups of individuals who have died for a cause or as a result of persecution or injustice.
The museum first hosted the holiday- themed celebration and exhibition in 2005. Since then, the event has evolved to include activities for children, traditional performances and food. About four years ago, the museum also began commissioning and purchasing related artwork to display in addition to the altars, Shepard said.
The celebration Oct. 28 will offer children’s activities from 2-4 p.m., including hands-on activities and storytelling. From 4-6 p.m., visitors can enjoy music, dancing, traditional folkloric costumed characters, Mexican food, desserts and beverages.
The community-centered altar exhibition includes traditional elements of Dia de los Muertos, such as sugar skulls, papel picado (the Mexican folk art of colorful tissue paper cutouts) and photos or personal items of deceased relatives. Another common symbol of the holiday includes colorful skeletal figures, laughing in the face of death, and La Catrina, which depicts a female skeleton dressed in the aristocratic styles of Europeans of her time.
Despite the costumes and skeletons, Dia de los Muertos is not to be confused with a Mexican version of Halloween, Shepard said.
“We want to maintain the integrity of what Day of the Dead’s history has been,” he said.
In that vein, the museum has collaborated closely with volunteers and community partners like the Spanish-language newspaper El Mexicano to connect with the region’s Hispanic community and arrange traditional performers.
Shepard said the Day of the Dead celebration and exhibition has made a lasting impression on the museum’s collection. The annual event has prompted the museum to evaluate the diversity represented in its collection.
“Getting involved in Day of the Dead made me aware of the lack of Latino/Hispanic artists in the collection, so we added an effort over the years to make sure we keep growing that collection,” he said.
For more information, visit fwmoa.org/event/losmuertos.
If you go…
What: Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration
When: 2-6 p.m. Oct. 28
Where: Fort Wayne Museum of Art, 311 E. Main St.
Who: All ages are welcome
Admission: $3 suggested donation