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The Los Angeles City Council has scheduled a special meeting of its Arts, Parks and Health Committee Friday to review renovation plans at the Autry National Center.
The City Council scheduled the special meeting after receiving complaints Tuesday from community members that they had not had time to properly review the project. The city’s Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners had approved the renovations during a meeting held on May 20, and while the Board had reportedly made a public notification of the meeting’s agenda more than 24-hours prior to the meeting, as required by law, some people claimed they did not receive the notice. To give the public more time for review, Los Angeles City Councilmembers Jose Huizar, 14th District, and Ed Reyes, 1st District, called for the special meeting and further city council review, according to Monica Valencia, a deputy to Reyes.
The Autry National Center announced in April that it had received a $6.6 million state grant to renovate its first-floor galleries and upgrade some outdoor areas into interactive exhibits. The Autry Center then sought approval from the Board of Recreation and Parks to begin the project, which is part of the normal city approval process. The Autry Center is located within Griffith Park.
The city council considered the decision by the Board of Recreation of Recreation and Parks Commissioners on Tuesday, and decided to schedule further review. Some of the opposition to the renovations comes from the Friends of the Southwest Museum, a coalition seeking to preserve the Southwest Museum of the American Indian, located in the Mount Washington area of Highland Park. The Autry National Center acquired the Southwest Museum in late-2002, and the museum is currently closed while the Autry seeks a partnership or funding that will enable it to reopen. Nicole Possert, chair of the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition, said the group is concerned that the renovations at the Autry Center will adversely affect the future of the Southwest Museum. Possert said the Friends of the Southwest Museum want the Autry Center to consider using the state grant to renovate facilities at the Southwest Museum, instead of upgrading exhibition space at the Griffith Park institution.
“We have concerns about the project at the Autry,” Possert added. “We would prefer that the state taxpayers not pay to have something built that already exists at the Southwest Museum.”
The Autry National Center is located in the 4th Council District, which is represented by City Councilmember Tom LaBonge, who is also chair of the Arts, Parks and Health Committee. LaBonge said he wants the renovations at the Autry to move forward, but also agreed that more public review would be beneficial.
Representatives of the Autry provided information on the renovation project at the Center, which will highlight the history and culture of Native peoples and include two dedicated California Indian galleries and an indigenous teaching garden. The new galleries will house some items from the Southwest Museum, representing only one pecent of the total Southwest Museum Collection of over 300,000 pieces. According to Yadhira De Leon, senior manager for public relations for the Autry National Center, a staff of 15 conservators from the Autry is currently working on cleaning, preserving, and cataloguing the rest of the collection. While there are currently no official plans for the Southwest Museum, De Leon said the Autry Center would like an outside entity to take control over the museum because with only 9,800-square-feet of gallery space, it is too small to be a fully-accredited museum. It is uncertain what would happen to the rest of the Southwest Museum’s collection.
“We hope to have this [Southwest Museum artifact preservation] project completed by 2013,” De Leon said. “Once the conservation work is done, we are hopeful that we can find a not-for-profit or community organization to use the [Southwest Musem] building. We have stated that we are willing to curate two galleries of art and artifacts from the collection if the new occupant of the building would like us to.”
Rick Coca, a deputy to Huizar, said the decision to call a special meeting was strictly based on the complaints about notification of the review, and not the merits of the Autry project.
“Regardless where you stand on this issue, the people have the right to be heard,” Huizar said. “That is a fundamental principle of our democracy and I want to thank Councilmembers LaBonge and Reyes and all the council for taking decisive action so that the people have the opportunity to make their voices known.”
The meeting of the Arts, Parks and Health Committee will be held on Friday, June 3 at 8:45 a.m. in Room 1010 at Los Angeles City Hall, 200 N. Spring St.
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