Southwest Museum Puzzle Pieces Coming Together: Still a Messy Picture

By Gloria Angelina Castillo & Gloria Alvarez, EGP Staff Writers

The Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition says new leadership at the Autry National Center and Occidental College and a possible new partnership with both could be  “a fresh start” in the long-running feud over the Mount Washington museum, but “at this point, things don’t look very hopeful.”

During a meeting last week in Highland Park, Chairperson Nicole Possert said members of the Friends Coalition met with new Autry CEO Daniel Finley, who told them maintaining one of the galleries at the Southwest Museum is “potentially do-able.”

At the same time, Occidental College’s president, Jonathan Veitch, is also interested in using one of the galleries for a learning environment, according to Possert.

While the coalition would rather have the full museum open and operating, the new proposal is something to be considered. The plan could open two rooms for programs and exhibits at the now closed site.

“It’s something; we haven’t had anything like this in a while,” Possert told the group of about 50.

Clarli Wilson, left, and other members of the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition, expressed anger and frustration over failed attempts to reopen the Southwest Museum. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

 

The Friends of the Southwest Museum and the Autry have been at odds for years over what should be done with the Southwest Museum and its extensive and very valuable collection of Native American and Southwest artifacts. Coalition members want the museum to remain a fully functioning museum and its collections to be exhibited there. The Autry claims that is too expensive a proposition, and is restoring the collection with the intent of displaying it at its much larger state-of-the-art museum in Griffith Park.

Most of the discussion at the meeting focused on the facilities located in Northeast Los Angeles. It appears that the Autry is willing to give up some control of the land and buildings, but some attendees are angry that the community is losing possession of the museum’s artifacts.

“It makes me want to strangle someone,” said Clarli Wilson, a long time resident of Eagle Rock who didn’t want to hear that the Autry has the right to sell pieces from the multi-million dollar collection.
The group also discussed possible legal options and the cost of legal challenges. Some believe that the Autry is guilty of fraud in its handling of the merger. They want the State Attorney General to investigate their claim; something Jerry Brown failed to do when he held the office.

The coalition has cited the Autry’s own studies to try and debunk its costs claims, to little success. Past efforts to apply pressure have failed. Elected officials, including the mayor and Councilman Jose Huizar have said they support keeping the Southwest Museum open to the community. A Gold Line Station was built adjacent to provide greater public access to the museum. Nonetheless, the museum remains closed and its galleries empty.

Dan Wright, an attorney and coalition member, says Huizar’s support has been “lukewarm.”

Read this story IN SPANISH: Cautelosa Esperanza para Reabrir un Museo en el Noreste de Los Ángeles

The latest proposals under discussion are the closest the museum has come to being reopened in a long time.

According to Huizar’s office, negotiations are underway to reopen the Southwest Museum as a fully accredited museum that features the Southwest collection.

“I am hoping that we can identify a museum management partner sometime this year,” Huizar said in a written statement.

“While legal action remains an option, it is a last option since lawsuits would undoubtedly lead to a long and costly court battle that would carry on for years and does not in the end guarantee us a favorable decision or the reopening of Southwest Museum, which is the ultimate goal.”

Huizar said he is aggressively pursuing a collaborative agreement and will continue to do so as long as real progress is being made, but coalition members note they’ve already spent eight years challenging the merger with the Autry that led to the museum’s closure.

The Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition is now weighing the options of settling for this much scaled-down plan, or enlisting community members as plaintiffs to continue the fight.

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April 7, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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