MINI ART MUSEUM is a little big deal

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MINI ART MUSEUM Founders, Mary Elizabeth Cantu (left) & Gabriela Santiago (right)

Sometimes great things come in small packages. Take for instance the award-winning spare parts MINI ART MUSEUM (MAM). The mini museum concept sprang from the artistically fertile imaginations of teacher & artist Gabriela Santiago, & spare parts founder & director Mary Elizabeth Cantu. “It’s been an honor to work with Gabriela for the past several years in different capacities through the field of art education,” explains Cantu. “In the summer of 2013, during one of our many creative brainstorming sessions, the idea of the MINI ART MUSEUM arose as a unique solution to present meaningful fine art museum experiences where they are less accessible.”

“Being a fourth grade teacher, I know how difficult it is to find the time & money to organize a school field trip to a museum,” said Santiago. “The MINI ART MUSEUM brings that experience to the schools – docent led tours, take away art project, even a gift shop. It’s a big little deal.” San Antonio Magazine-February 2014 edition-gave spare parts’ MINI ART MUSEUM kudos for “bringing art directly to students in micro form…all with a trash-to-treasure approach.”

San Antonio Magazine's Awards the MINI ART MUSEUM: Best Program Introducing Youth to the Art World, 2015
San Antonio Magazine’s Awards the MINI ART MUSEUM: Best Program Introducing Youth to the Art World, 2015

Original artworks submitted by artists using various materials including reusable &/or natural materials are displayed in portable, repurposed binders. Dubbed #weeart the tiny art pieces deserve no less scrutiny than their larger counterparts. Maureen Dobbler, teacher at East Central High School wrote, “The MINI ART MUSEUM is just different in a good way, so it makes you look closer & think more than a traditional museum. It allows you to open your mind & creativity to what art is out there & what the students could create themselves.” This may be art at kids’ eye-level, but it was very compelling overall, inviting all ages & heights to look intently & carefully at the small artworks.

Claudia Zapata - Curator - resized
Claudia Zapata, Cabinet of Curiosities Curator

Each MAM exhibition is carefully chosen by a seasoned curator. This year’s MAM Contemporary Art Month (CAM) Invited Curator, San Antonio native, Claudia Zapata participated as an artist in last year’s MAM CAM exhibition. The exhibit, “Short Stories,” was awarded the “Through the Looking Glass Award for Bending Perceptions, 2014” by CAM. “Short Stories” was curated by Sarah Castillo, founder of Lady Base Gallery. This year’s delightfully titled submission to CAM is “Cabinet of Curiosities.” This exhibition takes a look at the nature of the museum & its role in collecting & representing culture. It will be exhibited in various locations across San Antonio during the month of March. Follow the MAM on Facebook.

“Cabinet of Curiosities.” showcases original multimedia artworks created by artists from across the United States. Zapata tell us, “The concept of the exhibition is based on the cabinet of curiosity, or the Wunderkammer beginning as early as the 16th century practice of European private collection. This came to refer to collections of paintings, natural objects, archaeological artifacts & other figures that elicited “wonder.” Eventually private collection with an array of exotic and one-of-a-kind items would be the predecessors for major museum’s permanent collection.”

Cornelia White Swann / Pomegranate, 2014 / Natural Dye on Watercolor Paper / Loan, Courtesy of the Artist

Artist Cornelia White Swann (left) describes her work for the MAM as organic, fluid, colorful & the smallest art piece she has made. “I’ve recently started working smaller & working at this even smaller size was fun,” Swann says. “This painting is created with natural pigments from pomegranates. The process involves collecting the plant matter, extracting the liquid from the fruit & painting with it on watercolor paper. The dye from the fruit dries on the paper creating striations of heavy pigment to light pigment on the paper.”

Daniel Rios Rodriguez in collaboration with Theophile D. Rodriguez  /  Enchanted Rock, 2015  /  Pink Granite, Wood, Dried Flowers, Paper Collage & Acrylic  /  Gift of the Artist
Daniel Rios Rodriguez in collaboration with Theophile D. Rodriguez / Enchanted Rock, 2015 / Pink Granite, Wood, Dried Flowers, Paper Collage & Acrylic / Gift of the Artist

Another of the selected piece comes from Daniel Rios Rodriguez & collaborator Theophile D. Rodriguez (right). “I usually work small but this was probably the smallest work I’ve ever made &  just as engaging as some of my larger pieces,” wrote Rodriguez. “It will fit in the palm of your hand. It is pink granite, paper, wood & a memory. Imagine the sunrise with the moon in view.”

“The truth is, art is best experienced, when you see it live & in person,” Cantu says. “We used the objectives of spare parts to found a traveling museum. Taking the MINI ART MUSEUM very seriously, from working with superb curators who invite talented artists, provides a truly enriching & engaging experience. MAM continues to grow, gain recognition & can come to a location to you.” Please contact us if you would like the Museum installed at your event, location or school.  Email: & visit us on