City Ok’s Southwest Museum ‘Task Force’

By EGP Staff Report

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a motion June 1 to form a task force to look into how the Southwest Museum of the American Indian and Casa de Adobe, both located in Mount Washington, could receive more resources to improve their accessibility as cultural resources to the public.

Last Friday’s motion, made by councilmen Jose Huizar, Ed Reyes and Tom LaBonge, comes a year after Huizar first proposed forming a “working group” to bring city and community stakeholders and the museum’s operators, the Autry National Center, together with the intent of reopening the Southwest Museum as a fully functioning museum. Formation of the group was approved by the city council, 11-0.

The Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition and the Autry National Museum have been locked in battle for years over the museum’s future. Both groups, however, say they back the formation of a “working group,” and expressed hope that it will foster a spirit of cooperation between the dueling interests to come up with a plan and the financial resources to give the Southwest Museum — completely closed in 2010 — a second life as a cultural institution.

In May, the Autry opened a small exhibit of selected ceramics and archeological artifacts from the Southwest Museum’s vast collection in the venue’s hallway. The museum, which is undergoing conservation efforts and the surrounding property, including the outdoor garden and a Hopi Trail, are now also assessable during the Saturday only exhibit hours.

The Autry took over the cash-strapped and run down historical properties as part of a 2003 merger deal. Soon after the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition formed to ensure Los Angeles’ first museum would continue its long legacy as a historical and cultural destination. The coalition is made up of numerous local organizations and members of the community.

While the Coalition has expressed happiness that a “tiny section” of the museum has reopened, they continue to press that the Autry National Center not neglect the local museums and funnel its resources only to their museum in Griffith Park.

The Autry contends it cannot financially afford to support both its Griffith Park center and the Southwest Museum, and that it would like to see the group work toward bringing in grants and other partners, such as nonprofit cultural or educational institutions, to share the venues in Northeast LA.

The Autry says it has so far spent more than $9 million on conservation efforts to save the Southwest Museum’s vast collections, and to make necessary earthquake and other structural improvements to the museum site.

The “City Family” task force—which will be led by the LA’s Chief Legislative Analyst’s Office and supported by the Chief Administrative Officer, the Recreation and Parks Department, and the Cultural Affairs Department—will investigate and report back on ways the city can assure “greater equity” between the Griffith Park museum and the Casa de Adobe and Southwest Museum, according to the Coalition.

The City’s Historical Society and the County Museum of Natural History, at Councilman LaBonge’s invitation, could possibly also participate in the task force.

The group is scheduled to report back to the Council’s Arts, Parks, Health & Aging Committee within 60 days, according to the Coalition.

Last week, one of two lawsuits brought to stop the Autry from moving the Southwest Museum’s collection to its Griffith Park facility was dismissed by a judge on the grounds that the Autry’s planned facility expansion in Griffith Park is unrelated to the Southwest Museum, and was righty treated as such by the city’s Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners and the city council.

“Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition, on behalf of the many organizations and individuals within our Coalition, will work closely with the city staff to advocate for having community representation and expertise with the working group. In addition, we are already working on gathering current and relevant information, such as current cost estimates, that will be needed to inform the workings of this new group,” the group said in an email.

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June 7, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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