Monday, October 1, 2007

New SW Museum Agreement: Another Broken Treaty?

Community Split Over ‘New’ Plan

by Edward Rivera
A recently announced agreement between 14th District Councilmember Jose Huizar and Autry National Center President John Gray over the future of the Southwest Museum has been met by a storm of protests in Northeast LA, and seemingly raises more questions than it answers.
In addition, the agreement, which consists of a memo from Gray to Huizar, creates a new organization—The Southwest Society—made up of elected officials and various local citizens who will meet to direct fundraising for the Autry and Southwest Museum. Curiously, no current members of the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition, made up of 70 local community groups who have led the fight to keep the Museum open, were named to the group.
A local ad hoc group, the Northeast Progressive Alliance, kicked up a wave of protests, both public and private, when it announced its support of the “agreement,” hailing it as a victory. Most community members did not know any agreement or plan was forthcoming and were put off by being left out of whatever negotiations took place.
“This is not an agreement nor a contract, and the major victory points are still vague,” said Nicole Possert of the Highland Park Heritage Trust, a longtime activist who has been fighting to expand the Southwest Museum campus and keep it open as a full-time museum.
The agreement does not confirm the future existence of the Southwest as a continuing full-time museum open to the public.
What is most telling about the new plan and the reaction from the community is that it represents a clear split in Northeast LA, among those who have participated in the sometimes-volatile discussions with the Autry over the future of the Southwest Museum. Many on both sides are former friends and have fought together on many issues.
The members of the Alliance—Eliot Sekuler, Tony Scudelari, Grayson Cook, Carol Jacques and others—are former members of the Coalition, and very active politically. All have close ties to Huizar and Mayor Villaraigosa. (Interesting, the Southwest Society does not include First District Councilmember Ed Reyes nor State Assemblymember Kevin DeLeon.)
Sekuler was the former Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council rep to the SW Museum Coalition, but resigned his post. A week later, the ASNC board voted against his position with regard to the museum.
Possert said she was “surprised that (the SW Museum Coalition was) not involved in the negotiations. Huizar did not include us. The Northeast Progressive Alliance is not a member of the Coalition. Who are they anyway?”
Alliance Spokesperson Eliot Sekuler described the Alliance as a “group of friends conceived over cups of tea in (his) living room.”
Possert continued, “It was the Coalition that first suggested a blue ribbon committee. Fundraising should not supplant what the Autry is committed to.”
Characterizing the agreement, Possert said, “This is an incremental step in the process. This is not an enforceable agreement. What’s a measly little letter going to do? This is just an interim step. We need real world transaction standards.”
She continued, “What the Autry is saying to us is, ‘Your culturally and economically diverse community that is the heritage of the West does not deserve a museum, does not deserve this in their back yard, we are putting in our yard instead.’”
Huizar, responding in an e-mail, said, “I would say that approximately 90% of what the community asked for from the Autry was secured. This is a win-win situation.”
Autry Center President Gray told the Arroyo Seco Journal, “The Autry has clearly articulated its vision for a vibrant new cultural and educational use at the Southwest Museum site. The creation of the Society will help raise funds on top of the millions the Autry as already raised for the site, the collection and the landmark building. Rescuing this important landmark and creating a vibrant use benefits the neighboring communities in the Arroyo and all of Los Angeles.”
Asked about the enforceability of the agreement, Gray said, “The Autry has made its commitment to the Southwest site absolutely clear. The Autry has secured millions of dollars for the Southwest, and is in the process of a sustained multi-year effort to restore and rehabilitate the museum and the Casa. Standing with the Mayor of Los Angeles and Councilman Huizar, Autry President John Gray reaffirmed his commitment to this site. (Full memo is available at
In response to why the SW Museum Coalition was not involved in the most recent negotiations, Gray said, “Councilman Huizar met with the Coalition and was given a list of demands. He summarized those demands in a letter to the community. The commitments from the Autry answer completely the overwhelming majority of the Friend’s requests. The Society is very inclusive of diverse voices from the Native American community, cultural leaders in Los Angeles (including Linda Dishman from the LA Conservancy) and the stakeholders in the adjacent neighborhoods in the Arroyo.”
Asked how many members of the Blue Ribbon Committee have been actively involved in the SW Museum discussion over the last five years? Gray, said “Many.”
Gray said the Autry has been consistent in its vision for the future of the Southwest Museum, with exhibit space and expanded public uses.
Said Gray, “The agreement announced yesterday comes after years of public discussion, including a public process led by the City’s Human Relations Commission. The Councilman and Mayor are very supportive of the future vision and are confident it will be achieved.”
At least one local activist countered that position. Dan Wright, president of the Mt. Washington Homeowners Alliance, said, "The announcement of a blue ribbon fund raising committee for the Southwest Museum by the Mayor and Councilmember Huizar is not credible. First, it has no Board members of the Autry on it. If the Autry is not going to help itself obtain funds for the Southwest Museum, why would sophisticated donors give them money?"
Wright added, “I think that this committee has been announced now, just before Autry tries to get (City) entitlements to double its museum space on leased taxpayer land in Griffith Park, as a mirage to hold up before the decision makers at the public hearing.
“It's a slap in the face of their own Native Mexican ancestors whose lives and artifacts were envisioned by Charles Fletcher Lummis for display and conservation at this dramatic hilltop place of honor."
The Friends of the Southwest Coalition has scheduled an emergency meeting for this coming week.

The Memo

Councilmember José Huizar

John Gray, President

Re: The
Autry’s Vision for the Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe

On behalf of the Autry National Center I want to thank you for your leadership as
We move forward in saving the Southwest Museum and its world class collection. The Autry has a strong vision for the future, and look forward to working with you and the Northeast Los Angeles community to realize our mutual goals.

In summary, we share the following commitments for the future of the Southwest
Museum and the Casa de Adobe:

Expand and maintain the storage and public display of the Southwest Museum’s
collections in Mt. Washington. Using Southwest collections, present the depth and breadth of the Southwest’s collection with rotating exhibitions in the Sprague and Van Nuys Galleries.

When possible, host traveling exhibitions relating to the multiple cultures of the

Refurbish the Plains and California Halls as public space. This will allow for more
diverse educational, cultural, community and museum activities.

• Continue to store the portions of the collection that may be appropriately maintained at the Southwest Museum, such as archaeology and anthropology, and
make them available to scholars, and by appointment, to the broader public.

• Beginning with the reopening of the Southwest Museum, establish regular public
hours for the Museum’s public spaces, consistent with museum standards for
operations, by promoting the exhibitions and programs to a broad Los Angeles

• Maintain American Association of Museums accreditation for the Southwest

• Make available for public review at the Southwest Museum and on-line
a photographic inventory of the Southwest collection.

Preserve and protect the Southwest Collection of priceless artifacts

• Save the Southwest collections from substandard conditions and deterioration.

• Store the collection in museum-standard storage.

• Clean, repair and catalog, including barcoding, the more than 250,000 artifacts
that comprise the Southwest Museum collection.

• Make collections accessible to Native communities and the general public and
audiences throughout the world by putting artifact records and images on a
Collections On-Line website.

Preserve, rehabilitate and maintain the original historic Southwest Museum
Building and the Casa de Adobe

• Create a phased plan to systematically maintain and improve the Southwest
Museum and Casa de Adobe over the next decade.

The Autry has already invested more than $5 million to save the
Collection and stabilize the Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe, and is
Committed to the project’s completion.

As plans are finalized, publicly disseminate information about the rehabilitation.

• Conduct
major repairs to the Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe.

• Re-install
the dioramas after the completion of the water proofing and the new
delivery system of lighting to the tunnel.

• Stabilize the underlying structure that joins the Caracol Tower to the main

• Upgrade mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems.

Conduct earthquake retrofitting, perform critical water mitigation work, and repair damages to Casa de Adobe kitchen and historic stove.

• Continue the water proofing and building improvements of the exterior of the
building, such as the current Caracol Tower renovation that is taking place today.

• Create a campus that is handicapped accessible, by bringing the elevator to the
second story of the Southwest Museum building, and upgrading the bathroom

• Improve the watering system, and stabilize the Hopi trail in the Ethno botanic

Expand the educational and programming activities of the Southwest Museum and
Casa de Adobe

• Continue the Arroyo Seco Museum Science Magnet program for junior docents at the Casa de Adobe and then expand it to the Southwest Museum once refurbished.

• Establish appropriate educational programs for elementary schools students,
including fourth graders, with emphasis on early California History and Native
American Cultures.

Keep community members and stakeholders well-informed on plans and
Programming at the Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe

Provide monthly updates to the community on the rehabilitation of the Southwest
Museum and Casa de Adobe through the site and corresponding
Email blasts.

• Continue attending community meetings and presenting new information about
the rehabilitation of the Southwest building and preservation of the collection.

• Continue to include in the Autry’s published materials all programming at the
Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe, such as What’s Next and Convergence

AutryNational Center fundraising for Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe:
The Autry’s multi-million dollar fundraising to date includes:

• Raised over $3 million from major foundations to support conservation and long-
term care of collections.

• Raised over $450,000 from the federal government for conservation of the
collections through the Save America’s Treasures grant. This was the highest
grant amount given that year by this program.

• Raised over $500,000 from the federal government for the Southwest’s electronic catalogue, through grants from National Endowment for the Humanities and Institute of Museum and Library Services.

• Raised $300,000 for the Southwest’s electronic catalogue.

• Raised a grant of $936,000 from the California Cultural and Historical
Endowment to waterproof buildings.

• Raised over $1 million in FEMA funds in 1994 for stabilization of the
Southwest’s buildings; funds were in peril of being lost as no work had been
Conducted prior to merger.

• Raised funds from the National Park Services to assist in creation of Historic
Structures Report for Casa de Adobe.

• Raising $160,000 from CCHE to create greater ADA accessibility through
extension of the museum’s only elevator. (Pending)