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Public Forum on the Southwest Museum (article and transcript)

by Ross Plesset Saturday, Jul. 08, 2006 at 4:29 PM

On July 1st, The Southwest Museum closed. The Autry National Center, which owns it, claims the future of the museum is secure, while Friends of the Southwest Museum is concerned about the lack of a concrete plan and whether or not relocating parts of the museum to Griffith Park is necessarily the best scenario. The lack of a tangible plan as well as a claimed scarcity of public input has fueled suspicion by the Coalition as to the owner’s true motive.

Public Forum on the ...
sw_20museum_20postcard.jpg, image/jpeg, 440x278

The Mayor’s Human Resources Office has been sponsoring a series of community forums to encourage public input regarding the future of the Southwest Museum. The most recent one was held on June 29th in Highland Park. (Information about the next one, to be in Exposition Park, follows this article.)

On July 1st, The Southwest Museum closed. The Autry National Center, which owns it, claims the future of the museum is secure, while Friends of the Southwest Museum is concerned about the lack of a concrete plan and whether or not relocating parts of the museum to Griffith Park is necessarily the best scenario. The lack of a tangible plan as well as a claimed scarcity of public input has fueled suspicion by the Coalition as to the owner’s true motive. (A public description of the Autry’s intentions can be found here: http://autrynationalcenter.org/southwest/ and in the ensuing story.) “It is no secret that over the last two years, Autry has approached the City, charter schools, and other organizations to see if it could give or sell the building to avoid further stewardship of the Mount Washington campus,” read a flyer distributed at the Highland Park meeting. At the same meeting, Pamela Villasenor of the Fernandeno Tataviam Tribe expressed concern about the fate of ancestral bones and outlined future changes to the museum that her tribe would like to see. (She is quoted at length later in this article.)

The first speaker was John Gray, president and chief executive of the Autry National Center. He began by addressing what he perceived to be the most common concerns about the museum. “I think there are three issues that particularly concern this neighborhood,” he said. “The first [issue] is, what’s happening to the collection? I think some people [ask]: ‘Is the collection being stolen? Is it being pillaged? Is it being raped?’ The collection is being saved. It’s one of the most extraordinary treasures in Los Angeles. It’s stored in an extraordinarily beautiful but terribly cramped building, and it’s essential to take it out of the Caracol Tower in which it’s stored and clean it, catalog it, and take pictures. That very process is taking place today. The collection is being saved, it’s being respected, it’s being honored.

“The second thing that’s come up over and over again is ‘is the museum being closed?’ The museum is not being closed. The public galleries, where the exhibitions have been held, are being closed as of July 1st. That is because the whole collection that’s in the building has to move into all the galleries. There’s no place to store that collection unless we do that. The reason it has to move out of the tower is both to clean the collection and take it away from any problems that would destroy it. And secondly, it has to be removed from the tower to allow the tower to be reattached to the building with funds that have already been given through FEMA in 1994 [in the aftermath of the Northridge Earthquake]. Unless we spend those funds, we’re going to lose them, and we need to attach the tower to the building.

“The museum itself will be open Saturdays and Sundays; the store will be open; the first area on the lower lobby will be open; there will be tours for members of all the conservation galleries; the ethnobotanic gardens will be open; and the by appointment, the library’s open; and we will have programs every weekend.

“The next question is: ‘What will happen after the construction at Griffith Park and the rehabilitation at Mount Washington? Will the museum be reopened?’ The answer is yes, there will be a museum in the Arroyo campus in Mount Washington. The collection will be stored and displayed in Griffith Park. There are two main galleries that will show curated shows.”

He continued: “In addition to a museum use, our vision is to have expanded uses for this site, and those expanded uses are very specific. The first is ongoing education programs and programming based around the historic nature of both the building, the ethnobotanic gardens, and the idea of the Southwest. And finally, there will be classrooms in Spanish there to create opportunities for students throughout Los Angeles to take the Gold Line and come and study contemporary native arts and culture; to study the history of the west through the collection; to study archeology, anthropology—all of the sciences that go with the study in a normal college curriculum that will be based within the collection and the being used as a teaching tool. To do this, we would establish direct relationships with community colleges, UCLA, USC, [and] all the Los Angeles high schools.

“. . . GRAY LATER STATED THAT SOLAR ENERGYMAY EVENTUALLY BE IMPLEMENTED AT THE MUSEUM AS WELL AS WATERLESS TOILETS.”

“Finally, I know there has been an awful lot of discussion about motivation and what the Autry’s intent is.” He went on to mention many improvements and renovations made by the Autry since its merger with the Southwest in 2003. (Details of this are in the transcript following this article.)“Over five million dollars has been spent on the site,” he added, “another million dollars to go this year. We commissioned the leading preservation architect in Los Angeles, and perhaps in America, to tell us what to do with that building.” Gray later stated that solar energy may eventually be implemented at the museum as well as waterless toilets (more details in the transcript following this article).

“All I can say to you is we care enormously deeply about that building,” he continued. “I was a member of the Southwest Museum when I first moved to Los Angeles way before I ever got a job at the Autry. I love that building, I love that museum, and I love what it means for Los Angeles and the idea of history.”

“’WHERE SHOULD THE ARTIFACTS BE DISPLAYED?’ WELL, THEY SHOULD BE DISPLAYED IN THE TWO GALLERIES [AT THE ORIGINAL SITE] THAT ARE REALLY IMPORTANT AND THE ONES THAT WERE BUILT FOR THAT. THE REST OF THE BUILDING CAN AND SHOULD BE DISPLAYING ARTIFACTS, BUT IT’S NOT BUILT AT A LEVEL OF MUSEUM STANDARDS THAT WOULD BE ENTICING.” – John Gray, president and chief executive of the Autry National Center

“WE INVITE YOU TO MAKE YOUR COMMENTS ABOUT HOW TO ENHANCE THE EXISTING HISTORIC BUILDING AND EXHIBITION SPACE, NOT JUST TWO ROOMS THAT ARE NOT BIG ENOUGH FOR ANYBODY TO WANT TO COME REPEATEDLY. THINK ABOUT WAYS THAT WE CAN ADD TO THAT.” – Nicole Possert, co-chairwoman, Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition

Nicole Possert, co-chairwoman of the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition addressed some of Gray’s statements. As to the plan to relocate part of the collection to Griffith Park, “[w]e do not feel that a relocation of the Southwest Museum to Griffith Park is the only solution,” She said. “It is the assumed position that is being presented to you tonight, but I ask that if you feel differently, to please not assume that the decision has been made even though it sounds like maybe it has.

“I would like to address that the Coalition really feels that a museum that would be enhanced with other cultural uses is exactly what we would like as well. What we mean by an enhanced museum is not taking away exhibition space in the historic Southwest Museum building but expanding the 12-acre campus that they have, including the Casa de Adobe, to accommodate a variety of uses that would make the destination much more attractive.

“I know that there has been a lot of discussion about a cultural center. Well, a cultural center could be very vibrant for classes and education in addition to the museum. So I think the difference between what Mr. Gray presented and what we are saying is: two rooms devoted to exhibition space that are way under a museum standard of what a museum experience is, does not a museum a make. It does not provide enough space to show that collection. And the trade-off is we don’t need to see it over in Griffith Park. We can expand this site and show that wonderful collection in its original location right here in the Arroyo.”

Possert later expressed concern about a lack of openness on the part of the Autry: “This is the first time I’ve heard the specifics that Mr. Gray has given to you tonight, even though we’ve had three or four other meetings about how they intend to use this center. So again, it’s because there has been no concrete project put forward that we have to assume that there is no project and tell them what we want. [P]lease make your public comments on this. . . .There was a handout [saying] that because there was no public dialog, our coalition, came together over two years and put ideas forward that have never been appropriately addressed or even really acknowledged.”

Next, Raul Macias of Anahuak (http://www.anahuaksc.com/asc/ ) expressed concern about the impact the loss of the museum would have on local indigenous youths. “It’s so difficult in this time to teach the kids good manners, to teach the kids sports, and without a place of culture, it’s going to be worse,” he stated. “The Southwest Museum is one of those places where our kids can find out [about] the experiences of their ancestors here. We can tell them their history. Now everybody can be proud. Please [b]e active to save the Southwest Museum.”

Macias was followed by Pamela Villasenor of the Fernandeno Tataviam Band of Mission Indians (see: http://www.tataviam.org/), who spoke on various issues. “Now most people are unaware that Los Angeles City and County are home to two tribes: the Gabrieleno Tongva (see: http://www.tongva.com/ ) and the Fernandeno Tataviam, which is my tribe,” she said. “And we’ve been here for generations, for thousands of years, long before anyone else was ever here. [Y]et both of.our tribes are not federally recognized, which means we don’t have casinos, we don’t have money, we’re pretty much all low-income. That’s a whole other topic in itself.

“Also, L.A. is unique in that it has the largest urban Indian population, meaning many Indians from throughout the nation live here in the city and don’t live on their reservation. We are pretty active in our community, and the Southwest [Museum] does serve as a location to celebrate our culture, to have events. The LAUSD has their annual art event show for the kids at the Southwest, and they also take them there for workshops.

“Now regarding the Southwest itself, I have heard that it’s in dire straits and that it needs a lot of repair. And it’s great that the Autry has secured federal funding to fix that. It is very expensive to run museums, and we’re happy to see that people are putting the effort in.

“But of course, the most important thing to those of us who are indigenous are the bones that are there—that, before the collection, before the building itself, is the most important thing. [That is] something the Southwest never bothered to give back to us before the Autry bought [it]. Now we are in talks with the Southwest to get those bones back as per federal NAGPRA (Native American Graves and Reparation Protection Act) law and per state CalNAGPRA laws.

“Now, the collection is important to us also. They’re more than ancient artifacts that are remnants of some ancient cultures. They really, truly are integral parts to our past and our present. They show how vibrant we were as a civilization before other people came here, and it shows a really vibrant present for us. California Indians are going through a renaissance right now, in part because of the casinos, but many of us have language programs going now, bringing back languages that were said to be extinct but aren’t. We have many cultural programs (my brother being the cultural director for our tribe), bringing back dances, bringing back ways of using these artifacts that are really cultural items to us.

“. . .WE ALSO HOPE [THE SOUTHWEST MUSEUM] MOVES PAST THIS STATIC IDEA OF WHAT A MUSEUM USED TO BE, WHICH IS JUST OUR ARTIFACTS ENCASED IN GLASS AND NOTHING MORE. TO US, THAT IS NOT REALLY PAYING TRIBUTE TO OUR ANCESTORS. I [REFER YOU TO] PLACES LIKE THE HOPI MARKETPLACE AND OTHER MUSEUMS THAT ARE IN WASHINGTON STATE, WHERE YOU HAVE STATIONS SET UP TO DISCUSS THE ITEMS, TO DISCUSS HOW THEY WERE USED, AND THE ROLE THEY PLAYED IN OUR CULTURES. . . . “-- Pamela Villasenor of the Fernandeno Tataviam Band of Mission Indians

“. . . [Regarding] the future of the Southwest, we hope it’s a bright future, and we hope that it does open with museum space as we’ve heard it will. But we also hope it moves past this static idea of what a museum used to be, which is just our artifacts encased in glass and nothing more. To us, that is not really paying tribute to our ancestors. I [refer you to] places like the Hopi Marketplace and other museums that are in Washington state, where you have stations set up to discuss the items, to discuss how they were used, and the role they played in our cultures and our families. For us, our artifacts and cultural items connect us to our families. I know I have never met my great, great, great grandmother, but she is in me, and I am in my great, great, great granddaughter, but I will never meet her. So this is, for us, much more about the future of our people as much as it is about the past.”

In closing, meeting organizers strongly encouraged audience members to urge more people to attend the next meeting, to be held July 8th at the Exposition Park Inter-generational Community Center (EPICC), 3980 South Menlo Avenue at 10am.

“THEY CLAIM MAYOR VILLARAIGOSA IS NOT FULFILLING HIS CAMPAIGN PROMISE TO SUPPORT THE MUSEUM AT ITS ORIGINAL LOCATION.”

Also, Friends of the Southwest Museum is asking people to send comments to Public officials. (They claim Mayor Villaraigosa is not fulfilling his campaign promise to support the museum at its original location.)

Mayor Villaraigosa -- mayor@lacity.org or 200 N Spring St., Room 303 LA,

CA 90012

Councilmember Jose Huizar -- councilmember.huizar@lacity.org or 200 N.

Spring St., Room 425 LA, CA 90012

Councilmember Ed Reyes -- councilmember.reyes@lacity.org or 200 N.

Spring St.,

Room 410, LA, CA 90012

Councilmember Tom LaBonge-- tom.labonge@lacity.org or 200 N. Spring

St., Room

480, LA, CA 90012

Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition -- swmCoalition@pacbell.net or

755 Crane Blvd., LA 90065

Finally, there will be a candlelight vigil on July 15th at 8:00pm in Sycamore Grove Park. “Now is the time to stand up and be counted,” says the flyer. “Whether you feel you are mourning the death of a piece of our history and the culture of Native Americans or standing up for the future of a heritage, the Southwest Museum needs your voice.”

---------------------------------

TRANSCRIPT:

June 29, 2006, Highland Park: the public forum is being held at Ramona Hall. The auditorium is full; Friends of the Southwest Museum later estimated that about 225 people attended. The Southwest Museum is visible through the windows of the room.

John Gray, president and chief executive of the Autry National Center, speaks to the audience.

GRAY: I am John Gray with the Autry National Center. We’ve been in a series of meetings, and it’s wonderful to see so many of you here in this process. It actually is heartwarming because this exactly what it’s going to take to save the Southwest Museum.

Because there has been real discussion, I thought I would just go through three points that need to be addressed for clarification and really, I think, are the three issues that particularly concern this neighborhood. The first thing is what’s happening to the collection. I think some people [ask]: “Is the collection being stolen? Is it being pillaged? Is it being raped?” The collection is being saved. It’s one of the most extraordinary treasures in Los Angeles. It’s stored in an extraordinarily beautiful but terribly cramped building, and it’s essential to take it out of the Caracol Tower in which it’s stored and clean it, catalog it, and take pictures. That very process is taking place today. The collection is being saved, it’s being respected, it’s being honored.

The second thing that’s come up over and over again is ‘is the museum being closed?” The museum is not being closed. The public galleries, where the exhibitions have been held, are being closed as of July 1st [2006]. That is because the whole collection that’s in the building has to move into all the galleries. There’s no place to store that collection unless we do that. The reason it has to move out of the tower is both to clean the collection and take it away from any problems that would destroy it. And secondly, it has to be removed from the tower to allow the tower to be reattached to the building with funds that have already been given through FEMA in 1994 [in the aftermath of the Northridge Earthquake]. Unless we spend those funds, we’re going to lose them, and we need to attach the tower to the building.

The museum itself will be open Saturdays and Sundays. The store will be open; the first area on the lower lobby will be open; there will be tours for members of all the conservation galleries; the ethnobotanic gardens will be open; and the by appointment, the library’s open; and we will have programs every weekend.

The next question is: “What will happen after the construction at Griffith Park and the rehabilitation at Mount Washington? Will the museum be reopened?” The answer is yes, there will be a museum in the Arroyo campus in Mount Washington. The collection will be stored and displayed in Griffith Park. There are two main galleries that will show curated shows.

I would like to just say museums are very complicated and layered places, so just bear with me while I walk through this. There will be two galleries that will be able to have displays of artifacts. By that I mean they will be environmentally-controlled, which is to keep the humidity and the temperature within two percent variability, there will be the proper kind of cases and security that will allow the for the artifacts to be displayed. It will, in essence, meet the standards of today. Those standards are not met in the current facilities.

In addition to a museum use, our vision is to have expanded uses for this site, and those expanded uses are very specific. The first is ongoing education programs and programming based around the historic nature of both the building, the ethnobotanic gardens, and the idea of the Southwest. And finally, there will be classrooms in Spanish there to create opportunities for students throughout Los Angeles to take the Gold Line and come and study contemporary native arts and culture, to study the history of the west through the collection, to study archeology, anthropology—all of the sciences that go with the study in a normal college curriculum that will be based within the collection and the being used as a teaching tool. To do this, we would establish direct relationships with community colleges, UCLA, USC, [and] all the Los Angeles high schools. I believe that would work.

Finally, I know there has been an awful lot of discussion about motivation and what the Autry’s intent is. I think we have a choice: to live in fear of the things that we don’t know or live in hope of the things that we want. When the merger happened, the first thing that happened [was that] the flag went back on the tower, [and] it was lit. The second thing that happened [was] the place got cleaned. The third thing that happened [was] the place got painted on the inside, and two new exhibitions were installed in new [inaudible word]. Over five million dollars has been spent on the site, another million dollars to go this year. We commissioned the leading preservation architect in Los Angeles, and perhaps in America, to tell us what to do with that building. We’ve received over 0,000 in a grant to put a new envelope around the building to protect it from water, which is a terrible problem; we reinstalled the lighting; we’ve cleaned up; and we’ve given a front door to the museum. We got rid of the homeless problem, we reinstalled the gardens, and it looks wonderful.

All I can say to you is we care enormously deeply about that building. I was a member of the Southwest Museum when I first moved to Los Angeles way before I ever got a job at the Autry. I love that building, I love that museum, and I love what it means for Los Angeles and the idea of history. And I ask all of you to support us and understanding a way that you can have a broader, dynamic public destination at that site that is not a throwback to yesteryear and old museums. Thank you all very, very much. [Applause.]

NICOLE POSSERT: Good evening. My name’s Nicole Possert. I’m representing the Highland Park Heritage Trust on this Coalition. . . . As you know, the Coalition was founded with several leading organizations in this community, but it is much larger than that. We have national organizations, regional organizations, and local organizations who care about saving the city’s first museum as a museum.

I would like to address that the Coalition really feels that a museum that would be enhanced with other cultural uses is exactly what we would like as well. And what we mean by an enhanced museum is not taking away exhibition space in the historic Southwest Museum building but expanding the 12 acre campus that they have, including the Casa de Adobe, to accommodate a variety of uses that would make the destination much more attractive.

I know that there has been a lot of discussion about a cultural center. A cultural center could be very vibrant for classes and education in addition to the museum. So I think the difference between what Mr. Gray presented and what we are saying is: two rooms devoted to exhibition space that are way under a museum standard of what a museum experience is, does not a museum a make. It does not provide enough space to show that collection. And the trade-off is we don’t need to see it over in Griffith Park. We can expand this site and show that wonderful collection in its original location right here in the Arroyo.

So it shouldn’t be an ‘either/or’ in the way that Autry is positioning it. It should be an ‘and.’ So we invite you to make your comments about how to enhance the existing historic building and exhibition space, not just two rooms that are not big enough for anybody to want to come repeatedly. Think about the ways that we can add to that.

There was a handout [saying] that because there was no public dialog, our coalition, came together over two years and put ideas forward that have never been appropriately addressed or even really acknowledged.

I would like to address what Mr. Gray talked about in terms of the collection. I think everyone agrees that the collection is priceless, is large, is important, and should be cared for and stored in a proper location. We’re just not sure where that proper location is. Maybe it’s Griffith Park, maybe it’s another site. It’s just not been studied. We do know that we’d like to take the stuff that’s in storage in the building and put it out of what was intended as exhibition space and put it in a place where it can be properly cared for. We actually agree with that.

But the way it was framed [by the Autry National Center] was, what will happen after a new exhibition hall is created in Griffith Park. We disagree with that. We do not feel that a relocation of the Southwest Museum to Griffith Park is the only solution. It is the assumed position that is being presented to you tonight, but I ask that if you feel differently, to please not assume that the decision has been made even though it sounds like maybe it has.

I’d like to talk about the decline in the museum. There’s been a lot of discussion about how there’s been no attendance and no public support. Well I counter that by saying everybody has been around for a very long time trying to find solutions to make this museum work, and there’s been a lot of public support. What I’d like to say is [that for] 90 years this museum has been in operation, and if in the last two decades it’s had some struggles, the history of 90 years far outweighs the last two decades. I think it was the management and lack of marketing, and promotion, and changing of exhibitions that really caused the decline. It wasn’t that there was no public support for it.

Finally, going back to the tribe’s idea of a cultural center, we support the fact that a museum should be a cultural center. It is by definition. But not necessarily is a cultural center a museum. We’re in a cultural center right here and now [Ramona Hall], but there are no artifacts on display, there’s no education happening, there’s no way to interpret our past in this location.

We’d like to understand what is really happening with the discussion of having a cultural center with the Native American tribes. We learned today at about two o’clock there’s [been] an e-mail circulating that seems to pretend that a deal has been cut between three tribes and the Autry National Center. Again, that flies in the face of what this process was supposed to be about, which was to hear from the public first before decisions were made and then be able to inform their decision-making. So we are concerned and wondering what is going on behind the scenes that we’re not being told about and shared with honestly.

This is the first time I’ve heard the specifics that Mr.Gray has given to you tonight, even though we’ve had three or four other meetings about how they intend to use this center. So again, it’s because there has been no concrete project put forward that we have to assume that there is no project and tell them what we want. [P]lease make your public comments on this.

Now I’d like to ask Raul Macias if you could come up here. Raul would like to talk about Anahuak and the families in Northeast L.A. [which] represent part of our Coalition that’s been vital since the beginning. Raul? [Applause.]

RAUL MACIAS: Gracias. It’s something I really worry about. What’s going to happen with the Southwest Museum? Nobody knows. [There are] only speculations, only plans in the air. The Southwest Museum, like I said last time, is the spirit of this part of the city. We feel like they’re going take it without saying anything.

It’s so difficult in this time to teach the kids good manners, to teach the kids sports, and without a place of culture, it’s going to be worse. The Southwest Museum is one of those places where our kids can find out [about] the experiences of their ancestors here. We can tell them their history. Now everybody can be proud.

Please [b]e active to save the Southwest Museum. Thank you very much. [Applause.]

PAMELLA VILLASENOR (FERNANDENO TATAVIAM TRIBE): Good Evening. My name is Pamela Villasenor, I am with the Fernandeno Tataviam Band of Mission Indians (http://www.tataviam.org/). It’s great to see so many people here. I’ve been to a few of the meetings, and this is the largest turnout. I think these meetings are a wonderful opportunity for all of us to collaborate and discuss the issues at hand. I would like to thank the Human Relations Committee for facilitating these meetings; and the Autry, of course, for receiving the community input; and the Coalition for their heartfelt concerns about the Southwest’s future; and for all the rest of the community that’s here voicing their opinions.

Now most people are unaware that Los Angeles City and County are home to two tribes: the Gabrieleno Tongva (info: http://www.tongva.com/ ) and the Fernandeno Tataviam (info: http://www.tataviam.org/ ), which is my tribe. And we’ve been here for generations, for thousands of years, long before anyone else was ever here. [Y]et both of. our tribes are not federally recognized, which means we don’t have casinos, we don’t have money, we’re pretty much all low-income [laughs]. That’s a whole other topic in itself.

Also, L.A. is unique in that it has the largest urban Indian population, meaning many Indians from throughout the nation live here in the city and don’t live on their reservation. We are pretty active

in our community, and the Southwest [Museum] does serve as a location to celebrate our culture, to have events. The LAUSD has their annual art event show for the kids at the Southwest, and they also take them there for workshops.

Now regarding the Southwest itself, I have heard that it’s in dire straits and that it needs a lot of repair. And it’s great that the Autry has secured federal funding to fix that. It is very expensive to run museums, and we’re happy to see that people are putting the effort in.

But of course, the most important thing to those of us who are indigenous are the bones that are there—that, before the collection, before the building itself, is the most important thing. [That is] something the Southwest never bothered to give back to us before the Autry bought the [museum]. Now we are in talks with the Southwest to get those bones back as per federal NAGPRA (Native American Graves and Reparation Protection Act) law and per state CalNAGPRA laws.

Now the collection is important to us also. They’re more than ancient artifacts that are remnants of some ancient culture. They really, truly are integral parts to our past and our present. They show how vibrant we were as a civilization before other people came here, and it shows a really vibrant present for us. California Indians are going through a renaissance right now, in part because of the casinos, but many of us have language programs going now, bringing back languages that were said to be extinct but aren’t. We have many cultural programs (my brother being the cultural director for our tribe), bringing back dances, bringing back ways of using these artifacts, that are really cultural items to us.

Now, I heard something about an e-mail that has been disseminating talking about a deal with the tribes and the Autry. I have to say, if there is one out there, it’s not with my tribe and not with the two L.A. tribes. So I don’t know what that is about, but I honestly know nothing of it. It just sounds like a malicious rumor. I hope somebody talks about that and clears the air because I don’t want anyone to think that we’re doing something. [As] I told you, we don’t have money [laughs], so there’s no grand scheme.

[Regarding] the future of the Southwest, we hope it’s a bright future, and we hope that it does open with museum space as we’ve heard it will. But we also hope it moves past this static idea of what a museum used to be, which is just our artifacts encased in glass and nothing more. To us, that is not really paying tribute to our ancestors. I [refer you to] places like the Hopi Marketplace and other museums that are in Washington state, where you have stations set up to discuss the items, to discuss how they were used, and the role they played in our cultures and our families. For us, our artifacts and cultural items connect us to our families. I know I have never met my great, great, great grandmother, but she is in me, and I am in my great, great, great granddaughter, but I will never meet her. So this is, for us, much more about the future of our people as much as it is about the past.

And we truly hope that everyone here works in collaboration, good spirits, with good ideas. Thank you. [Applause.]

QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION

The speakers are presented with pre-written questions from the audience.

QUESTION: How many resources do you think is appropriate for the community to contribute for the preservation of the Southwest Museum?

POSSERT: The community has been contributing resources for many years. We have had open arms with the Autry since the merger. We supported their application for the public funding that is now going to be used for the rehabilitation of the building; the Prop. 40; the Save America’s Treasures federal dollars; we actually introduced the Autry to the National Park Service to get a grant for the Casa de Adobe, which was a matching grant to do a historic structures report for the building that they had promised they would do with the Brenda Levin Study and never did. So we proactively went out and found a way to help them [inaudible]. And all of our Coalition members supported a neighborhood beautification grant. They talked about cleaning up the building and investing in the building. Well, our sweat and our tears are in that building.

So I think this community gives. What I think the response is, when you’re going to build a 0 million expansion in Griffith Park, are you asking the same question of the neighbors of the park? The gorillas in the zoo or the freeways? What does that neighborhood have to give to build a new museum in Griffith Park?

We will give, and we will support a museum. We will do everything possible. We hope the elected officials save the Southwest Museum Station for the Gold Line. Everything we’ve done has been positive for the Autry National Center and the Southwest Museum before that. So with all due respect, I think the question is, when is Autry going to give back to us? [Applause.]

QUESTION: Where will the research library be located?

GRAY: The research library, which is currently housed in a building called the Braun Library, will be housed in an expanded facility in Griffith Park and is part of The Institute for the Study of the American West. It will keep all of its identity and collection independent, and [inaudible].

QUESTION: What are the costs of the building and expansion in Griffith Park? How does this compare with operating the existing site?

GRAY: We are still in the process of designing the new facility in Griffith Park. In essence, it’s an expansion of the existing building: it’s having saddlebags put on both sides of it, so that it’s within the area in which the Autry is, and doesn’t take up the south lawn. That hasn’t been designed yet. Therefore, we don’t know how much it’s going to cost. We anticipate that the cost, the hard dollar cost of actual construction, will be between to 60 million.

The operating cost before the merger at the Autry was about ½ million a year. The operating cost today, including this site and the Griffith Park site, is about ½ million. That increase is really going to this site because at the time of the merger, there was no income coming from this site or the Southwest Museum. The merger allowed many large foundations and philanthropists to contribute money to save the collection and save the building. So the merger literally allowed people to give money because they believed in the future, and that money is being spent there today.

The anticipated operating costs for the combined facility and Griffith Park we don’t know because we don’t know how big it’s going to be, and we don’t know how much money we’re going to be able to raise to build it.

[More discussion about the e-mail regarding an alleged deal.]



QUESTION: . . . Are the tribes leaning toward one position, the Autry, or the other, the Coalition?

VILLASENOR: We’re not actually taking a position on [either] side. We’re merely stating the position we’re taking based on the artifacts in the collection and the remains of our ancestors. So what the Autry and the Coalition come to agree upon is based upon you here today. What we’re concerned with is our culture and our tribe

QUESTION: How much land will the Autry use to build in Griffith Park?

GRAY: I actually don’t know. The building has not been designed yet. The preliminary thoughts about it are to increase the actual footprint by about 30 to 40,000 square feet around the sides. On one side, towards the highway, it’s three levels, and the other side would be two levels. The idea of the building is to have it be both environmentally appropriate but also not to take anymore and, in fact, give back parkland to Griffith Park.

QUESTION: Reference has been made to two new galleries. Would they be here, or are they going to be in Griffith Park?

GRAY: That’s a very good question. Let’s back up a minute to the original idea of the Southwest Museum when it opened in 1914. [A]n extraordinary plan had been developed and, obviously, never executed: a series of buildings that worked their way up the hill, including an amphitheater and things like that. . . . [It would] have been quite spectacular and quite wonderful. But when the building opened in 1914, it was ,000 in debt, and the then-board of trustees couldn’t afford to have a party. The idea of the building was modeled after Alhambra, and it was one in which to have both artifacts displayed and activities.

There really were only two rooms actually designed for galleries: what is currently called the Plains Room, where the plains native material is--it’s quite a wonderful room—and Sprague Hall . . . which is clearly designed for artifacts. There are extraordinary pictures of it which you should go see in the lobby. That gallery has a series of windows that have been boarded up. Those two were always the main display galleries.

The areas of the tower, the Caracol Tower and what we call the Van Nuys Galleries today, were used for libraries and offices. The lower level was used for storage and some artifacts. So if you really look at what some of the original uses were and how it expanded, [you can see] that it’s those two galleries that were really designed to be beautiful, beautiful display rooms. We hope to bring them back to how they were originally intended.

What’s interesting about it is that there’s extraordinary skylights that have been covered up in there for years along with those windows. And through the efforts of Brenda Levin and literally the preservation community, we’ve discovered how to reopen it up and treat it with the kind of respect that it needs to have. If you [ask], “Where should artifacts be displayed?” well they should be displayed in the two galleries that are really important and the ones that were built for that. The rest of the building can be and could be displaying artifacts, but it’s not built to a level of museum standards that would be enticing. So when people talk about, “Why would you want to be there?” you want to be there for those two galleries that can actually have the collection and look beautiful in them and be very special.

QUESTION: I’m about to read my favorite question of the night: will the casino open in place of the Southwest Museum? [Laughter.]

VILLASENOR: [L]ike I said, we’re a non-federally-recognized tribe. Those of you who haven’t studied or taken Intro to American Indian Policy and Federal Law, as being a non-recognized tribe, it means that we are not officially a tribal government to the United States. In the 1800s, here in California, there are 18 unratified treaties, meaning the cavalry came out, removed us from our lands, signed a treaty with us, stuffed our people out at Fort Tejon, and when the treaty got back to congress, congress said: “We’re not going to ratify it. You guys are out. You can’t go back to your land, it has all been encroached on. You don’t have anything.”

So [inaudible] we don’t have a land base, we don’t have a reservation because the treaty wasn’t ratified. It was based on lies through the U.S. government. To open a casino you need to be a federally recognized tribe with a land base and make a compact with the state—three things that both the tribes of L.A. cannot do because both of us were blocked from becoming federally recognized. If you have more questions, I can give you resources, but it’s a really, really long process to explain. [Applause.]

QUESTION: Has there ever been discussion about using solar energy at the Southwest Museum? Solar’s been used at various Native American Reservations across North America.

GRAY: The answer is yes. It actually was built with solar energy in mind if you look at the skylights and the windows. But with the restoration, we are dedicated to saving that building as it is.

What really has happened has been a series of deferred maintenances on that site, particularly the flat roofs and the joints within the tower. We’ve had enormous water intrusion, and one of the reasons for that are the main hall is a tile roof. The tile roof extends over Sprague, and it actually comes back over Plains. The only flat roofs and things you can put [something on] would be the Caracol Tower, and even the top of Van Nuys [Gallery] has a skylight. So to actually embed solar energy on top of the building is inappropriate given its historic nature.

That isn’t to say that a store of solar energy certainly couldn’t be placed above the parking lot on the hills. One of the things we’re dedicated to doing is not only preserving the ethnobotanic gardens but expanding them. It really is a unique treasure, and we just hope to keep it going. By the way, those are in much better shape today than they were three years ago.

QUESTION: Can you discuss the results of the Levin architectural study, and has that study been made public?

GRAY: It’s on the web. Let’s back up a second to explain the Levin study. It was a very interesting time when we were talking about merging. The reality was that the Southwest Museum board had spent 20 to 30 years trying to move off the hill. That’s documented; you all know it; you organized an enormous protest in the early ‘90s, pledging public support that happened to get the Gold Line here. The actual support didn’t come through from the government, there was no [inaudible word] on the parts of the city or the county or the state.

/At the time of the merger there was enormous discussion of what to do, but here’s what the reality was: we were approached in November of ’02, the Southwest was going to close their doors in January of ’03 because there was no money. As a condition of the merger, the Autry put up 0,000 to keep the doors open, to pay the salaries of the employees, to pay the utility bills, and literally to clean up the building. We did not merge until April, but in the merger agreement there was several things contemplated. The first one [which was] always contemplated was a new building in Griffith Park. The second thing contemplated was a detailed analysis for the Southwest building. There have always been rumors about that building: its earthquake preparedness, its roof, all of that. We said: “Let’s find out what the truth is. With the information about the architecture, we then will approach an economic resource company to study how to improve [it] and make it work.” We then went out and hired [Levin & Associates Architects] along with one of the past presidents of the L.A. Conservancy to come in and do a detailed architecture and mechanical analysis of that building, determine what was historically significant, determine what could be done with plans, and then we turned it over to people who actually do a lot of work for all the major amusement parks and museums throughout the world to say what was feasible and what wasn’t feasible.

So the Brenda Levin Study, which is on your website, was distributed, and we had over 32 meetings with the Coalition to discuss these issues. The Brenda Levin Study actually said there are two schemes in which you could have a museum operate under today’s standards: environmental, security, and access. Both of those cost a lot of money just to do rehabilitation, and both of those ideas had an annual loss that was greater than the actual budget of the Southwest before the merger.

Our trustees spent a year studying that plan and listening to plans and came back and said: “We’re not going to allow closure or ending the museum. What we want is more ways to make it viable, not relying on museum-only use. And that actually is what started the real problem with the Coalition. We tried three planning processes: the first with Brenda Levin, we couldn’t do that; the second with the Urban Land Institute, we couldn’t do that; the third with Councilman Reyes’s office, who gave us money to hire the same planner who worked with Nicole to put in the Gold Line. Councilman Reyes actually paid for him to come down. All those three planning processes were rejected by the Coalition, because they said, “Until you guarantee us a museum-only use, we’re not going to allow you to plan anything.” So this was our first public process.

So we started with the Brenda Levin plan. It’s still in place, it’s actually what we’re using today when we do all of the work up there. It’s what we’re using today when we look at repositioning various spaces in there.

I’d like to say, if it could be a museum-only use, wouldn’t we want to do that? We feel that it can’t be a museum-only use, it can be an expanded museum use. And a definition of that is really an expanded use of the collection for education programming as well as exhibitions. Thank you. [Applause.]

[There is a series of exchanges between the audience and the moderator. The former wants to hear Possert respond to Gray’s statements. “I’m sorry, your comments are really out of order,” says the moderator.

“That is preposterous,” answers an audience member.]

QUESTION: What are the areas of agreement [between] the Southwest Museum Coalition and the Museum of the American West and Institute for Study of the American West?

POSSERT: I’m sorry, but I am going to take a little bit of time to respond [to Gray’s statements]. Many of my Coalition colleagues are here, and we’ve had many Coalition meetings where we talked about how to get Autry to the table publicly about what to do. Four or five us would get to meet with them because it was at the request of the two council offices. Mister Gray has inappropriately stated the reasons why these planning processes wouldn’t go forward.

They wouldn’t go forward because [as] we’ve said, if you recognize that the Brenda Levin Study is feasible as the consultants concluded and that we could talk about it in the context of a museum-use with complementary or expanded uses, there would be an easier time at which to have a public dialog. Quite honestly, we were trying to protect them from having a divided community. We were trying to get something [that] we knew our community would demand without making it so uncomfortable for the Autry or so negative that the deal of discussion would leave the table. So we stayed, and we persevered for three years, and we got nothing.

Where we are in agreement is the site is very important, and the collection is very important. Where we are in agreement is that the collection needs works, needs more space, needs care. And we embraced Autry at the merger with the acceptance that they had the ability--we thought, we think--to do that.

I think where we also agree is that it has to remain a viable destination. We might say “a museum destination,” and they may say “just some public destination.” So those are the highlights.

I think that the main thing we agree on is that the expansion of the Southwest Museum exhibition should occur. The question is, does it need to occur when there’s no evidence that says Griffith Park is the only place to relocate the Southwest Museum when it can happen right here? Lummis wanted the acropolis on the hill, he wanted a museum, [and] this community will support an appropriate expansion in order to keep our museum and make it more viable. So I’d really like the dialog to be about how to make it more viable but based on a museum-use and then extended to include the dreams of the tribes of a cultural center that respects their cultures; extended to include the Spanish and Mexican American Cultures that Lummis fought for; to include the art, the science, the history, and the cultures of the Southwest. That was Charles Lummis’s vision: not to interpret the cultures of just the Native Americans, but to interpret this thing he called and coined the Southwest. And he wanted no other place except this place, right here in the Arroyo. He fought for this land, he made it the museum, and that’s what it should continue to be. [Applause.]

GRAY: Well, I actually think we agree on quite a few things. And I’d like to answer the question with: what does the whole community agree on, not just Nicole and some of the leaders of the Coalition. [Mumbles and hisses in audience.]

MODERATOR: Please

I think we agree on a common love of that site, and that museum, and that history, and I think that we agree on the idea that it has to be vital and alive, and I think we really agree that the collection is the vehicle upon which you do that and make it unique. I’d also say that we probably agree on the thing that’s going to surprise many people here, and that is we both agree that it’s probably up to the Autry to do it and that there really is no other alternative Thank you.

[Possert later addressed Gray’s statement about the consensus that only the Autry can restore the museum. “I would agree with it in the sense that they own the structure, and it is their responsibility to maintain the structure,” she commented. “If they do it, I guess, is another question.”]

FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS (by this author)

QUESTION: Some people in the community feel that it’s inappropriate for an American flag to be on top of the museum. What is your opinion?

VILLASENOR: We’re in America, and whether or not you agree with the government, if you’re a citizen, it’s your right to disagree [laughs]. So anyone who disagrees with the flag, that’s great. Anyone who agrees with it, that’s great, too.

POSSERT: . . When [Autry and the Southwest Museum] merged . . . they were like: ‘We put the flag up! We put the flag up! We put the flag up!’ And everyone was like: ‘No one knew about the flag. What’s the flag?’ It wasn’t like we were [shouting], ‘Where’s the flag?!’

What they did was they put a spotlight on the flag instead of lighting the tower. That was offensive to me because the tower is sort of the icon of the Arroyo. It’s what people see when they travel along the freeway. So it’s like this little light, and if the flag’s limp it’s like, ‘What am I looking at?’ . . . The flag’s great, don’t get me wrong, but light the tower. The response was, ‘We don’t have enough electricity [to also light the tower].’

QUESTION: Following up on the question about solar power, has there been any discussion about other environmental improvements/measures. Some Indian reservations use like compost toilets [see: http://www.envirolet.com/ ]

GRAY: We haven’t gotten to the level of redoing all the plumbing, but when we do, we’re going to try to do flushless toilets.

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