Arts & Humanities

NEHMA Celebrates Día de Los Muertos Inside and Out

By Phillip Brown |

J.P. Spicer-Escalante, "El Altar" (detail), 2019, digital photograph.

*Para leer este artículo en español, visite:

Starting Tuesday, October 27, the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art (NEHMA) at Utah State University will be showcasing art and cultural objects in celebration of Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The display will include large-scale photographs by photographer and USU professor of Hispanic studies J.P. Spicer-Escalante and an altar created by his wife, María Luisa Spicer-Escalante, USU professor of linguistics and Spanish, and Celina Wille, Latino Programs Specialist at Utah State University Extension and associate director of USU’s Latinx Cultural Center.

Día de Los Muertos is a multi-day Mexican holiday in which people honor friends and family who have passed away and support them in their spiritual journey. A key traditional element is the ofrenda—an altar in memory of the deceased filled with photos, memorabilia, their favorite foods and drinks. The altar is also often decorated with marigolds, a flower believed to guide the souls to the offerings laid out for them.

This is the first time NEHMA will have an ofrenda on display in the lobby. It will be decorated with many of the traditional items, accompanied by a short guide to the significance of each one.

“I am pleased to be able to share this important celebration from my homeland with the USU and Cache Valley communities,” María Luisa said. “It reminds me of my childhood in a small town in Michoacan where I first discovered the Day of the Dead and its significance as a little girl.”

Also included will be an interactive display where visitors are encouraged to participate by leaving a name of a loved one they would like to honor.

Celina Wille teamed up to collaborate in this project because she saw this exhibit as an outreach opportunity to both educate the campus community about Día de Los Muertos and to highlight it as a tradition of many Cache Valley Latinos.

“Día de Los Muertos, is a day of remembrance of loved ones,” Wille said. “In Mexico, people also go to the cemetery to clean tombs, bring fresh flowers and food. Many can’t do that here but can celebrate with an altar, honoring and remembering relatives who passed away. This is not a Latino Halloween equivalent, and we want to dispel that notion.”

Outside the museum, four 10-foot-tall banners will hang on the east wall, featuring photographs taken by photographer and USU professor of Hispanic studies J.P. Spicer-Escalante during Día de Los Muertos celebrations in Mexico last year. Additional photos by Spicer-Escalante will be on view inside the lobby. Together, the images illustrate many different styles of celebration—from more traditional festivities in the rural village cemeteries to the carnival crowds in Mexico City with their strange blend of modern-day influences like American Halloween costumes and the 2015 James Bond film Spectre.

“Although I had planned to be in Mexico to finish my photographic project on the Día de Los Muertos this year,” J.P. said, “the pandemic has made that impossible. However, I am honored to be able to share a portion of my work on this important Mexican holiday with the local community.”

The ofrenda, photographs and banners will be on display for two weeks, from Tuesday, Oct. 27 to Friday, Nov. 6.

“I’ve wanted to do something like this for years,” said Katie Lee-Koven, executive director and chief curator at NEHMA, “and having J.P.’s work already in the museum provided the perfect opportunity. I’m glad that we could collaborate with him, María Luisa and Celina to honor this cultural tradition.”

More of J.P. Spicer-Escalante’s photographs are on view in the exhibition, The Love in the Time of Coronavirus Project, a series of 30 portraits of a diverse group of Cache Valley residents paired with their written reflections on the current pandemic.

Visiting the museum is free of charge. Hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3p.m.

Please note that the museum has taken precautions to ensure a safe experience for all visitors and staff, including face masks, regular cleaning, encouraging social distance and limiting the total number of visitors to 60 people at a time. Visitors have the option to make a reservation for one-hour time slots in advance. To make a reservation, visit

Free visitor parking is located in the lot behind the Russell/Wanlass Performance Hall. For public transportation, ride the Cache Valley Transit routes 1, 4, or the green or blue Loop and get off at the Fine Arts stop.


Phillip Brown
Public Relations Specialist
Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art


Phillip Brown
Public Relations Specialist
Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art


Community 415stories Culture 58stories

Comments and questions regarding this article may be directed to the contact person listed on this page.

Next Story in Arts & Humanities

See Also