Originally from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Sharon Diaz Villarreal’s childhood largely shaped her love for arts and culture. Villarreal credits her grandmother as having an immense influence on the appreciation she has for her roots. However, moving to the United States in third grade, and knowing little to no English, impacted that appreciation deeply. She felt silenced to fit in.
“For years, I felt embarrassed about my culture and avoided speaking Spanish,” Villarreal said. It wasn’t until her early 20s that she began reconnecting with her roots as she started to realize the best shared moments happened when she embraced her culture loudly and proudly. This is exactly what she hopes to inspire in others who too have felt silenced because of their heritage. In her new role as the Instituto de Cultura Hispánica de Corpus Christi’s executive director, Villarreal is set on creating a space where people can learn, discover and feel as though they truly belong.
KC: You moved into this new role towards the end of 2023. How have the first few months been and what inspired you to initially apply?
SDV: It’s been both challenging and inspiring. My journey with the Instituto began as a member, where I grew a connection with other members and the museum. This personal connection motivated me to seek a more active role within the organization, recognizing its potential for a greater impact on the community.
Becoming the executive director brought its own set of challenges and growth. The initial months have been focused on character-building, navigating the expectations of others and standing firm on decisions. I’ve had to lean into community leaders for guidance on many things. It’s been a major lesson in focusing on what I can and cannot control. I am so grateful for the support from the ones who have trusted my vision. Despite the challenges, these early months have been nothing short of amazing. Witnessing the Instituto’s potential unfold and feeling the community’s support has been inspiring.
KC: In terms of expanding, enriching or changing any of the programming, what would be your goals?
SDV: My vision is centered around creating collaborations with the community. One of my goals involves starting a program in partnership with local schools to encourage educational trips to our museum. To spotlight and support local talent, we want to invite more artists from the area to exhibit their work. Recognizing the importance of preserving and promoting local heritage, we are also working on dedicating a space in our museum to feature Hispanic heroes of Corpus Christi. The purpose of this initiative is to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to the community in Corpus Christi.
KC: What do you want people who haven’t visited in a while (or ever) to know about the Instituto de Cultura Hispánica de Corpus Christi?
SDV: The Instituto is the only Hispanic museum in the Coastal Bend. It is free to the public, but donations are appreciated. Our museum features a variety of folkloric dresses, art and artifacts from different Hispanic countries, and special exhibits and cultural events are featured periodically. We’re also a cultural nonprofit organization with a mission to promote and preserve Hispanic cultures. We actively raise funds for scholarships and have an endowment plan at both Del Mar College and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
KC: What is the importance of a place like this for a community?
SDV: The Instituto holds an important role as a cultural center, dedicated to preserving and showcasing the diverse history, art and traditions of Hispanic cultures. It stands as a unique space that encourages understanding, appreciation and celebration of our heritage. We contribute to the city’s cultural history by providing a platform for exploration and education. Through art exhibits, educational programs and community events, we are breaking down stereotypes and creating an inclusive environment.
KC: What would a successful first year in this position look like for you?
SDV: Establishing a clear and inspiring vision for the Instituto de Cultura Hispanica de Corpus Christi, aligning with the community’s needs and the organization’s mission. Financially, success would involve expanding funding sources, securing grants and establishing sustainable revenue streams. Also, enhancing the museum experience through engaging exhibits and educational programs, promoting inclusivity and attracting diverse audiences. The use of technology for innovation, streamlining internal processes for efficiency and developing an active and supportive membership community would contribute to the museum’s overall stability. Creating a positive public image and maintaining open channels for feedback would be important for continuous improvement.
KC: How can the community support?
SDV: We depend on the support from the community to maintain the museum. We encourage the community to visit the Instituto and see the unique art and artifacts firsthand. The community’s involvement, whether through participation, volunteering or financial contributions, plays an important role in ensuring the Instituto continues to thrive as a cultural center for all to enjoy and appreciate. Additionally, spreading the word about the Instituto within the community always helps.
Contact: ichtx.org | 1617 N. Chaparral St.