Every city has a story to tell and San Benito, with the new San Benito Cultural Heritage Museum, is now better able to tell it while also attracting traveling exhibits that can bring new insights to the city.
The 7,000-foot-square museum opened in November 2018 and has already featured photo and artistic elements highlighting border life and culture. Luis Contreras II, the city’s cultural arts director, says those exhibits are only the first of many in plans. Future topic areas include those in history, arts, culture and science. The city is also working to renovate the next-door San Benito Cultural Arts Center. The location will promote the arts through performance programming, events and traveling exhibitions.
“Everyone’s story is unique,” Contreras said. “There’s many cities that don’t have that element to develop museums to educate its residents about local history.”
San Benito has a rich history of music. The city played a critical role in the founding of conjunto music through Narciso Martinez, a local historical icon who was nicknamed El Huracan del Valle for his innovative style of accordion playing. San Benito was also home of Rio Grande Music and its Ideal record label, which featured the music of Martinez and a young hometown musician named Freddy Fender.
Existing mini-museums tell the city’s musical history. This includes contributions of Fender and legendary conjunto musicians such at Martinez, Ruben Naranjo and Valerio Longoria. The hope is that the three previously standing museums – the Conjunto Music Hall of Fame & Museum, the Freddy Fender Museum and the San Benito History Museum – can raise sufficient funds to move some of their collections for long-term exhibits in the new heritage museum.
“San Benito’s roots in conjunto music run deep,” Contreras said. “The city has an ability to express its history through the feeling of music.”
Contreras is thus ecstatic with what the new cultural heritage museum has been able to feature. Initial exhibits have featured the photography of three Brownsville-area women. Patrons may also view a barrio pop display of paintings and large-scale photos inspired by street art. Another exhibit in partnership with the Mexican Consulate of Brownsville features an exhibit by artist Primo Vega of impressionist landscapes.
It’s all part of Contreras’ plans to bring a diversity of exhibits, events and programming that will touch on science and history that will new bring perspectives to the city as well as the emphasis on local, regional history and culture. “Heritage tourism” is the term he uses. He also sees much more the city can do with its new museum space and blending in the existing collections of the three local museums.
The San Benito Cultural Heritage Museum is located at 250 E. Heywood in the city’s downtown area.