Elizabeth Alvarado is cultural manager and museum specialist for the Peruvian Ministry of Culture. She completed the Master of Management in International Arts Management program in 2014 and currently resides in Lima, Peru. Below is her interview with Brittany Johnson.
How did you become interested in the arts?
Since I can recall, I have always been surrounded by the arts. My parents exposed me to different art forms, but especially music and museums. One of the oldest memories I have is of taking a summer class at a museum; this probably impacted my eventual decision to enter the cultural sector. In a way, the arts have always been part of my life—my older sister is also an artist and a writer—however, I never considered working in the sector until I was an intern for the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York (A.R.T New York) in New York City while finishing college.
Tell me about your career at this moment. What do you do? What are your day-to-day job responsibilities?
I have been working as a cultural manager and museum specialist (Gestora Cultural Especialista en Museos) in the General Directorate of Museums (Dirección General de Museos) for Peru’s Ministry of Culture for more than three years. I focus on visitor attention, communications strategies, and COVID-19 protocols across the Ministry’s 56 museums nationwide.
With the directorate, I support and provide technical assistance to museums as it relates to visitors’ attention and experience. I also monitor and supervise specific programs, such as Open Museums (Museos Abiertos) a program that provides free entrance to Peruvian citizens every first Sunday of the month. Additionally, since the beginning of the pandemic, I have led and monitored the implementation of COVID-19 protocols for museums.
What prepared for you this role?
Firstly, my education. I have a Bachelor’s of Business Administration from Baruch College—part of the City University of New York—with a Specialization in Cultural Initiatives from the Pontificia Universidad Católica in Lima; but especially my master in International Arts Management, which gave me a worldwide perspective on the cultural sector and how to navigate and manage its challenges, in addition to providing an introduction to cultural sites, theory, and field studies.
The master’s program’s multidisciplinary approach gave me the tools to articulate and manage different specialties and perspectives within the Ministry of Culture. I now serve as a link among different professionals and their areas of focus within the Ministry.
Secondly, my previous job experiences in the public sector; primarily a public-private project about innovation in the museum sector of the city of Lima. This included a “diagnosis” of 50 institutions, a public study, and a sectoral innovation agenda. That project allowed me to become aware of the gaps, necessities, and challenges, as well as strengths, opportunities, and the resilience of my chosen field.
And finally, my own personal experience as a long-time museum lover and visitor.
Can you tell me about a project you’ve done recently that you’re proud of?
Not recently, but I consider it relevant to mention that I was in charge of coordinating the COVID-19 protocol for Peruvian museums (public and private). This was a big responsibility and a team effort. I worked with the Direction’s team, the museums, and other areas of the Ministry.
The protocol defined the guidelines for every museum in the country that wanted to reopen during the pandemic. We provided the tools and support needed to implement the protocols, which included guidelines for safeguarding our cultural heritage, museum workers’ physical and mental health, and caring for visitors.
And more recently in June 2022, the new National Museum of Peru organized a special activity for Pride Month, in collaboration with the Direction. The activity sought to make visible the presence, or reflect on the absence of the LGBTQ+ community in museums. The activity concluded with a collaborative mural; it’s still open for visitors to add to. It was a small activity but significant for the team at the national museum, especially given the lack of presence and support of the Peruvian government. It is probably the most significant and emotional event I’ve participated since working in the museum sector. It confirmed the possibilities and power of museums for me.
What are some of the challenges you face in your role?
First, I have to say that working in culture in the public sector in Peru is a challenge itself. I’ve worked for a little more than three years in the Ministry of Culture and so far, 11 different ministers have been appointed.
On a daily basis, it’s always complex to coordinate with more than 50 museums nationwide from the capital, especially considering that Peru is a very diverse multicultural country whose citizens all experience different realities, including internet access, infrastructure, human resources, and economic, social and political situations.
Are there any trends happening in the art sector in Peru that you’re really excited about? Are there any trends in the arts sector that concern you?
I will say that the professionalization of cultural managers (Gestores Culturales) is very exciting. A few years ago we were a little behind other Latin American countries in relation to opportunities for specialists to develop in this profession, however, nowadays there are more options.
I’m a professor for the specialization of cultural management (Diplomado en Gestión Cultural) at the Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montoya. I teach Development of Cultural Projects, and it is very exciting and enriching to accompany the new generations of cultural managers and to witness the process in which their ideas become cultural projects.
I also want to mention that there are always projects related to gender approach which bring me to my next thought.
As we know, there have always been women and feminist initiatives, but in recent years, there is more visibility for them. And, there is a growing support from programmers and decision makers, in the public and private sectors, who value and provide platforms for projects related to gender and inclusion.
In 2019, the national government launched the National Gender Equality Policy to promote full citizenship for all women, and the next year, 2020, the National Culture Policy launched. This policy adopted a broad concept of cultural diversity, including gender diversity and sexual orientation. Although, there are still challenges and controversy around the topic, we currently have better tools and regulations to facilitate and promote gender parity in the practices and actions of the state.