Ricardo Viera, professor of art and director and chief curator of the Lehigh University Art Galleries and Museum Operation (LUAG), was recently awarded the Latino Lifetime Achievement Award by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of the Lehigh Valley to commemorate over 40 years of contributions to the Hispanic and art communities. Viera has been a cornerstone member of the art community in the Lehigh Valley over the years, sporting an impressive résumé as a noted lecturer, panelist and consultant for government arts and cultural agencies, nonprofit organizations and private enterprise and visual art projects.
In addition to being a self-proclaimed “advocate of the arts,” Viera has been a remarkable proponent of the Hispanic community, supporting a nationally recognized collection of Latino and Latin American art at LUAG. Since 1974, Viera has had an immense impact as a faculty member upon the art community and facilities here at Lehigh. He has been integral developing the art, architecture and design department from the ground up and amassing a teaching collection of over 10,000 pieces and cultural materials. He’s also involved in an eclectic, yet numerous, group of gallery organizations ranging from the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives at the Banana Factory.
With such an impressive array of involvement, Viera seemed to be an ideal candidate for the Latino Lifetime Achievement Award. The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of the Lehigh Valley recognizes members of the community who represent an entrepreneurial spirit, serve the Allentown and Lehigh Valley community and work to increase understanding between the Hispanic and non-Hispanic communities through the arts and cultural exchange.
“Ricardo represents the arts and the Latino entrepreneurial spirit we support in the community,” said Daniel Diaz, liaison of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
According to Diaz, awards from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce are decided by a gala committee that focuses on developing each year’s theme, fundraising and presenting the award to a noteworthy member of community. This year, the chamber acknowledged Viera for his 40 years at Lehigh, his contributions to the community arts and his role in aiding the exponential growth of Lehigh’s art galleries and museum operations.
“He’s been an outstanding teacher and an impactful leader in the art community,” Diaz said.
Viera has a strong professional reputation but remains humble. His passion for the arts is clear, and his desire to create an effective teaching environment within his department is admirable.
“It’s very humbling to receive (an) award for doing what I love,” Viera said. “I do things because I love to do them, not because I have to. That’s just the person I am.”
Viera came to Lehigh in August 1974 as an assistant professor of arts and exhibitions. “I was part of a sort of package deal at the time, where three minorities had been hired in the department for the first time in the 70s,” Viera said.
In an era of affirmative action, Diaz happily accepted the dual position at Lehigh.
“The art gallery, at that time, was at different places around campus, and the art department was in the top of Lamberton,” Viera said.
In the mid- to late 1970s, the department moved to Chandler-Ullmann Hall, and Viera focused on achieving a professional standing for the exhibition and art collection on campus. Viera said that the LUAG museum finally became operational in the 90s.
The collection of almost 12,000 pieces has grown over the years due to gifts and donations from alumni, friends and family,according to Viera.
While acting as the chief curator and director for the LUAG, Viera is also a full-time professor. His classes cover a range of topics from photography to the Latino visual arts. Viera’s passion for the arts translates to his teaching and cultural expression.
After receiving his lifetime achievement award, Viera was proud to say that his department and the LUAG grew from one person in 1974 to 17 people today.
“One key moment was moving to Zoellner Center 17 years ago; it gave us more presence,” Viera said. “It allowed us to be a more definitive part of the university.”
Viera is very invested in continuing to make the LUAG better, not only from the organizational side, but also for the quality of education students receive at the university.
“I want to have a more fully integrated classroom,” Viera said. “We have eight different galleries and an open storage facility on campus. We need a better integrated open storage facility that can be used as a teaching collection.”
Viera has had an incredible impact not only upon Lehigh’s campus and art gallery, but also upon the greater community of the Lehigh Valley, especially due to his work for national organizations and for the Hispanic cultural community as a whole.