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Richmond Art Center celebrates Dia de los Muertos ‘to educate people about such an important cultural event.’

on October 13, 2022

Amid the drug store offerings of Halloween consumer goods, any Dia de los Muertos-themed item invariably sticks out.

Decorations featuring iconic skulls and cempasúchil marigolds, or candy branded with characters from Pixar’s film “Coco” speak to the growing commercialization of a holiday once outside of the corporate limelight.

But the holiday has more cultural significance in Mexico, where it orginated. And on Saturday, the Richmond Art Center will share that tradition with a Dia de los Muertos-themed Fall Family Day, featuring art, music, and even remote-controlled miniature low riders from the collection of Cruz Arroyo, who runs a popular tamale stand in Richmond.  

“There’s instances where I’ve seen somebody put on a Day of the Dead event, but it’s more of an entertainment program or event. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it misses the actual ancestral connections that are really important and really real,” said Roberto Martinez, exhibitions director at the Richmond Art Center. “I think it’s important to teach, to educate people about such an important cultural event.”

Martinez has worked closely with a number of local artists like Daniel Camacho and Ernesto Olmos, among others, to plan a day of festivities to inspire the anticipated 300 to 500 attendees.

Camacho, whose exhibition “De Fantasías y Realidades” is currently on display at the Richmond Art Center, will lead the day by setting up a community ofrenda in the main hallway. His calaveritas workshops will make the skulls that adorn the altar alongside offerings of food and objects brought by community members hoping to celebrate those they have lost. 

“The idea is to share a bit about my culture. It’s a very important day in Mexico. I know people want to express their feeling about those who have passed,” said Camacho. “This brings families together. That’s the important thing.”

Richmond Art Center
Daniel Camacho (wearing hat) leads a calaverita workshop for Dia de los Muertos. (Sasha Schell)

Ernesto Olmos, an artist and specialist in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican traditions, will give a presentation on the cosmology and history of Dia de los Muertos. For him, making offerings on an ofrenda are not mere gestures, but rather a vehicle connecting the living to those that came before. 

It’s about honoring our ancestors, Olmos said, and about how we perceive the dead.

“If you’re going to build something, do it real,” he said. “Put fruit, talk to them, cry.”

Olmos fears that the true meaning behind the day is sometimes forgotten as the entertainment-oriented side of the holiday is highlighted. But traditions that had been hidden “in the kitchens, in the dress, in the language,” are being rediscovered as older people talk more about the custom, he added.

Organizations such as the Richmond Art Center are instrumental in preserving this history and these traditions, Martinez said. 

The event at the Art Center is an opportunity to strengthen the cultural traditions that have been diluted through the process of assimilation, he said. “Places like this are important to keeping that.”

Richmond Art Center

FALL FAMILY DAY

When: noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15

Where: Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Ave.

Admission: Free

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