Monday , March 1 2021

Riverside close to securing Cheech Marin’s Chicano art collection

A recent council vote approved a memorandum of understanding between the city, the Riverside Museum of Art and the famed actor-comedian to work out an agreement. If everything goes as hoped, Marin’s art collection will have a permanent home in what is now the city’s main library.

Riverside is working on bringing a prominent actor-comedian’s art collection to the city.

The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture and Industry will be located next door to the historic Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in the heart of downtown, in what is now the city’s main library, according to city officials.

If approved, the facility will be overseen by the Riverside Art Museum, which is also in the historic Mission Inn District. It stages about 20 exhibitions a year as well as educational programs for children and adults.

On May 16, the city council passed a memorandum of understanding between the city, Marin and the museum.  All three parties have until the end of February next year to negotiate an agreement that will make the art center – which Marin has reportedly dubbed “The Cheech” – a reality.

That agreement will determine when the Cheech Marin Center, which is expected to cost $5 to $7 million, will be built. The first task, once the main library is moved, will be to raise approximately $3 million to get the project started, City Manager John Russo said.

Besides regular walk-up patrons, Marin’s art collection would attract study groups from UC Riverside, Cal State San Bernardino and other nearby universities, according to Russo.

“This will be a great addition to downtown Riverside,” Russo said. “It will be a catalyst to get more people downtown. I don’t think any one project puts a city on the map, but this could be a huge draw.”

Marin, who first achieved fame in 1970s as half of the comedy duo Cheech & Chong, has been looking for a facility to house his collection of more than 700 pieces of Chicano art, which includes painting, sculpture and photography.

Marin was out of state filming a movie when the council cast its vote. However, he did call into the meeting and expressed his appreciation for the council’s vote, which will give his art collection a permanent home in a community with a strong Latino heritage and a large Spanish-speaking population.

“Thank you very much for passing this,” Marin said via the council chamber’s speaker system. “I am thankful that you have a lot of faith in what we can accomplish here. This means the world to me. This is a really important project.”

The final agreement between the city and the Riverside Art Museum likely will require the museum to provide staffing, management, marketing and curator service for the Cheech Marin Center, which would be designed for “serious academic inquiry.”

It will  include lecture halls, classrooms, space for film and video screening, a cafe and museum store, according to a city statement.

The idea to bring Marin’s art collection to Riverside got started in February, when 65 pieces from his collection were displayed at the Riverside Art Museum. Papal Chicanos Dos: Works on Paper/From the Collection of Cheech Marin attracted more than 1,400 patrons on its opening night, a record for the museum.

Its first-month gross was about three times what a show at the art usually generates, according to museum officials.

Russo and his wife Melissa, who is the director of the San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands, had dinner with Marin shortly after his show opened.

“He was very receptive to the idea of bringing his collection to Riverside,” Russo said. “The idea took off right away.”

Although not the largest assemblage of Chicano art in the United States, Marin’s collection is among the most respected because it covers so many topics, said Drew Oberjuerge, executive director of the Riverside Art Museum.

“It has a lot of depth, a lot of variety, which is one of the reasons we’re so excited about getting it,” Oberjuerge said. “It’s going to be a major attraction, and a big step forward for the museum.

The museum attracts about 50,000 patrons a year, Oberjuerge said.

The Marin exhibit is expected to add considerably to that figure, although Oberjuerge declined to speculate on how much.

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