Advanced Search | Search A!:
Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Contreras-Koterbay instrumental in establishing American Museum of Philippine Art

Karlota Contreras-Koterbay
Karlota Contreras-Koterbay

September 20, 2016

JOHNSON CITY East Tennessee State University's Karlota Contreras-Koterbay is playing a leading role in establishing a new museum in California that will showcase the art of her people.

A bi-national effort is underway to plan, build awareness and secure funding for a new American Museum of Philippine Art, which will be located in Los Angeles.

Contreras-Koterbay, a native of the Philippines holding dual citizenship, is a founding board member and vice president for curatorial programming for the American Museum of Philippine Art Foundation Inc.

The establishment of this international museum will address what Contreras-Koterbay calls a "shroud of invisibility" cloaking one of the largest immigrant populations in the United States.

"When you talk about Philippine food or Philippine art, you don't have a really clear picture or understanding of what it is," she said.

Contreras-Koterbay and her fellow board members are seeking to change that through this new facility, which will be not only a museum featuring several art galleries, but also a cultural center with an auditorium, a concert hall, a "black box" theater, a teaching kitchen, a library and more designed to showcase many aspects of Philippine culture and bring people together.

"It will be a headquarters of Philippine culture," said Contreras-Koterbay, who grew up in the arts as the daughter of a noted Filipino artist. "We live a simple life and we are happy. We want to keep that part of our culture, that sense of family. We want to keep the parts of our cultural values and heritage that are good. Sometimes, if you don't have a visualization of that, it almost disappears."

While maintaining her full-time role as director of Slocumb Galleries for ETSU's Department of Art and Design, Contreras-Koterbay is responsible for planning programming for the new museum, even as the fund-raising process is ongoing.

"I said, "Building the building is good. It's expensive, and it will take a while. We can't just focus our attention to building a building there has to be some programming, because that's the important part of this thing,'" she said. "If we don't have a building yet, we're not going to stop. We can still have programs and use other people's buildings."

Contreras-Koterbay is excited to serve in this new role, which ties in well with the work she does at ETSU.

"I'm proud because I'm not in a large arts center, and yet I'm in a leadership position," she said. "And I'm grateful for the job I have here and the training that I have, because the work I do here at ETSU brings the world to Appalachia and shows Appalachia to the world. I'm following the same model of culture with the new museum."

During Filipino American History Month this October, Contreras-Koterbay is bringing an exhibit to ETSU from the Art Institute of Chicago titled "I am Here Now." This show, sponsored in partnership with the Filipino-American Association, will highlight the work of 11 Filipino-Americans who were either born in the United States or immigrated at a young age. Activities planned in conjunction with the exhibit include a performance by members of the Filipino-American Student Society of the tinikling dance, a traditional, bird-like dance using bamboo sticks.

As director of Slocumb Galleries at ETSU, Contreras-Koterbay has strengthened the Visiting Artists exhibition program, which provides access and exposure to visual art for ETSU's students and the wider academic and regional communities. She has conceptualized exhibitions promoting cultural diversity and gender/racial tolerance, and has received two grants from the Andy Warhol Foundation and three Arts Build Communities grants from the Tennessee Arts Commission that have brought exhibits to campus highlighting the artwork of Native Americans.

Contreras-Koterbay has instituted a Curatorial Internship Program to develop and mentor students in curatorial work, and some of her former students have gone on to work at large metropolitan museums. She also secured sponsorship for a satellite location, Tipton Gallery in downtown Johnson City, which has expanded Slocumb Galleries' ability to showcase the works of student and guest artists and has helped boost the revitalization of the downtown area.

A 2013 Distinguished Staff Award recipient at ETSU, Contreras-Koterbay holds a master of arts degree in art history and a bachelor of arts degree in anthropology from the University of the Philippines-Diliman. She is a member of the International Association of Aesthetics, International Council on Museums, Southeastern College Art Conference and Association of Academic Museums and Galleries. She has served as a board director for the Art Association of the Philippines and as a member of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts Committee on Art Galleries.

To learn more about the American Museum of Philippine Art, visit