Latin Art Strikes Salsa Beat with Hispanics: The Buzz in Marketing Circles Is the Growing Hispanic Population. but How Does This Community Respond to Art?

Article excerpt

Some people think of Latin-American art in terms of the great Mexican muralists--Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and lose Clemente Orozco. Young, hip Hispanic art collectors, however, know there's a whole world of bright, bold and edgy work by contemporary artists out there.

Hispanics are now the largest minority in the United States. One in eight Americans--almost 39 million--are Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than two million more Hispanics live in the United States than African Americans. It's a fast-growing population, too. Between 2000 and 2002, the Hispanic population grew 9.8 percent while the rest of the country's population grew only 2.5 percent.

Demographic Details

Of the major minority groups in the United States, Hispanics have the smallest percentage of art buyers. According to the 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts, approximately 7 percent of Hispanics own original art, such as paintings, drawings, sculpture and prints. In contrast, 20 percent of the overall American population owns art.

However, art and money go hand-in-hand, and many Hispanics are new Americans struggling to establish themselves. The Census Bureau reported in 2001 that 26 percent of Latinos made $35,000 or more a year, and about 12 percent made $50,000 or more. But one-fifth of all His panics live in poverty. Economists note that, as Hispanics become more educated and better employed, their income and earning power will rise.

Ed Bolin, owner of Kaleidoscope Gallery, located in Mission Viejo and Laguna Beach, Calif., said that even though 32 percent of all Californians are Hispanic, he sees very few in his galleries. Rather, Hispanics * tend to cluster in homogeneous communities. Instead of living in Laguna Beach (where most residents are wealthy and white non-Hispanics) many Hispanics prefer to live in Santa Ana. There, 76 percent of the population is Hispanic, and the median income is $42,162.

The 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts shows that more than one-third of the Hispanics who buy art have a bachelor's degree or higher. Half of art buyers earned $50,000 or more a year. Twenty percent earned $75,000 or more a year.

Using the same survey, 72 percent of Hispanic art buyers said that they owned their own homes. In contrast, only 47 percent of all Hispanics were homeowners, whereas 68 percent of all non-Hispanics owned their homes.

Also, the Hispanic population is quite young. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age for all Hispanics in this country is 26. Thus, marketers look at this as an up-and-coming consumer market. Expectations are high that the Hispanic market will surge in buying power by the end of the decade. By 2008, Hispanic buying power is expected be $1,014 billion--exceeding that of African Americans by almost $100 billion, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, a demographic research organization in Athens, Ga.

Areas of Interest

Celia Birbragher, who for 27 years has published Art Nexus, an international Latin American art magazine, observes a trend among Hispanic art buyers. "Usually, the interests come through their background," she said. "If they're Cuban, they collect Cuban art. If they're Mexican, they collect Mexican art. Usually they move on to other areas--usually, but not always."

Birbragher said that art buyers learn about new artists and art trends from different sources, such as her magazine and Sotheby's and Christie's auctions. They also attend museum shows and go to art fairs.

"The art fairs are playing an important role," she said. "They're bringing in works from all parts of the world. [Collectors] can compare prices. I see more people not only going to their galleries, but going to fairs in Madrid, Basel and other places. Also, I see it in their collections. Ten years ago people were buying very traditional works by very well-known names. …