Working Group on Long-Range Plan of Southwest Museum Off to a Slow Start

By EGP News Report

Nearly a year after Los Angeles City Council members approved a motion to form a working group to develop a long-range plan for reopening Los Angeles’ first museum in Mount Washington, a council committee met Tuesday to begin discussing the group’s formation, but stopped short when legal concerns over the group’s operation surfaced.

The working group, first proposed by Councilman Jose Huizar in June of 2011, was intended to bring members of the council, the Autry and community stakeholders together to work on a plan to reopen and operate the Southwest Museum, closed in 2010 by the Autry.

Councilman Richard Alarcon (CD-7), who chairs the Arts, Park, Health and Aging Committee, and committee member Councilman Ed Reyes expressed support for reopening the Mt. Washington’s Southwest Museum of the American Indian and the Casa de Adobe as a resource to the community.
Councilman Tom La Bonge, the third member of the committee did not attend the meeting. The Southwest Museum is located in Reyes’s district, while the Autry National Center in Griffith Park is located in La Bonge’s district.

Southwest Museum (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Dozens of Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition attended Tuesday’s committee meeting. They asked that their group be part of the working group. The coalition has for years fought efforts by the Autry National Museum to close the Southwest museum and move its collections of art and artifacts to the Autry’s museum in Griffith Park.

Representatives of the Department of Recreation and Parks and the City Attorney’s Office informed Alarcon and Reyes that the city does not have jurisdiction over Casa de Adobe or the Southwest Museum. The city only has jurisdiction over the Autry National Center in Griffith Park, they said.

Legal issues regarding possible quorum and Brown Act concerns, and whether the working group should meet publicly or informally were raised, resulting in the motion being put on hold for two weeks to give the committee time to review the concerns further.

The motion’s original intention was accountability, Reyes said. He emphasized that they wanted to move away from the antagonism and confrontations of previous discussions related to the Autry’s merger with the Southwest Museum.

“The next step is to revisit the language of the motions, and revise them so they are legally applicable. We plan to come back to the Arts Committee in two weeks with language that is legally applicable and in good will for all parts of the City. It’s incumbent on us, as stewards of the City in philanthropic circles, in education circles, and within the City government, to prioritize the Southwest Museum as an investment for the future,” Reyes later told EGP in an email.

During the discussion, Alarcon expressed concern about exposing the city to litigation.

The city is currently facing two legal challenges related to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process for a renovation project at the Griffith Park site, and alleged Brown Act violations for Recreation and Parks Commission hearing during which critics of the Autry were not notified through an email blast system, said Deputy City Attorney Arletta Brimsey.

The Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition has for nearly a decade charged that the Autry has failed to live up to the merger agreement that resulted in their acquisition of both properties in Northeast Los Angeles and a multi-million dollar collection of artifacts. The group wants to hold the Autry accountable.

However, the city has limited power because it was not a party to the merger, Brimsey said at the meeting.

While further discussion on the work group was postponed to May 1, Alarcon said he would not let the issue die in committee. “We are huge supporters of both the Autry and the Southwest Museum,” Alarcon said noting that the Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe are a “special treasure” and an “incredible asset” that should be brought to life, not shuttered or abused.

Luke Swetland of the Autry National Center told the committee members the working group would be the best way to move forward. “We more than anyone in this room want success for both Casa de Adobe and Southwest Museum,” he said.

While members of the coalition disagreed with some statements by the Autry representatives, namely to bring in museum operations experts into the working group, Nicole Possert, co-chair of the Southwest Coalition, told EGP she was happy that after 11 months the community has the opportunity to have a voice and express support for the taskforce.

Dan Wright, attorney for the coalition, said the city’s attorney’s claim at the beginning of the meeting to limit the scope of the city’s work to the Griffith Park site is part of the problem the group has faced for almost a decade.

For the Record: An earlier version of this story stated the Autry closed the Southwest Museum in 2006, it was actually closed  to the public in March of  2010. According to Yadhira De Leon, the Autry’s director of public relations,  they are making the Southwest Museum “once again accessible to the public on May 19.”

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April 19, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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