The Merger of the Autry and the Southwest Museum of the American Indian
- The merger was completed in 2003. The Southwest Museum, as an independent organization, no longer exists. The Autry National Center now includes the Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection and the Southwest Museum site. The Autry, a not-for-profit museum, owns the land in Mt. Washington, the buildings, and the Southwest Museum Collection.
- When the merger occurred, the plan was to first and foremost, save the deteriorating collection at the Southwest Museum. Our collections team took on the tremendous task of assessing the collection, which was housed primarily in the museum's Caracol Tower. The Tower and the artifacts in it suffered from pest infestation, mold, and dust. The Tower had sustained major structural damage as a result of the 1994 Northridge earthquake and did not have the proper storage conditions required of modern museums (UV light passing through the tower windows, leakages during rain, etc.). The campus itself is not handicap accessible, the electricity was faulty (couldn't support additional computers), and there were plumbing problems (no hot water and water leaks). First thing was to make the building habitable. This has taken many years and millions of dollars. Most of the collection is still being housed in the Southwest Museum in Mt. Washington, out of the now empty Tower and into the former galleries.
- The Autry has undertaken an extensive collections care project to address the critical needs of artifacts, including cataloguing, cleaning, conservation, barcoding, repacking, and proper shelving. A new collections management software system was obtained to manage this large collection. The total number of artifacts rehoused since 2003 is 129,886, at a cost of $3,090,000.
- The Autry has completed numerous repair and maintenance projects to ensure the immediate safety of the collections and building: waterproofing the Caracol Tower; upgrading plumbing; repairing the HVAC and security systems; adressing site drainage issues; landscaping; cleaning; and performing minor repairs. We have already spent $1,421,759 to fix the Tower. In addition, we will be spending approximately $160,000 to finish the Tower and Sprague Hall.
- Since the merger, the Autry has spent approximately $10 million in total operating support for the Southwest Museum campus.
Southwest Museum Conservation Effort
After the Merger
- From the start of the merger in 2003, the Autry met with the Southwest Museum Coalition leaders regularly as well as with the Mayor's office, Councilman Reyes, and Councilman Huizar. They asked the Autry to keep the doors of the Southwest Museum open. We complied for a few years despite the huge operational costs and low attendance.
- We installed a new gallery and created open storage areas, provided behind-the-scenes tours, held public programs, and placed street banners along Figueroa promoting the museum. We participated in and sponsored Lummis Day.
- We hired architect Brenda Levin to conduct a study of the Southwest Museum site to see what it would take to maintain the building as a fully functioning museum. The cost far outweighed the benefit, and in the ensuing Autry Master Plan published in 2006, the professional opinion was that the facility could not function in the 21st century as an accredited, fully functioning museum. The Autry Board of Trustees accepted this decision.
- The Board decided that a mixed use of the building would be ideal. Since then, Autry representatives have met with Occidental College, Nicole Possert of the Coalition, and Councilman Huizar to discuss a future vision of the Southwest site as a mixed-use educational or community facility, housing Native American, archeological, or museum studies classes.
- Dan Finley, the Autry's former President and CEO, has offered to donate the site to the City at no cost, and still maintain one or two rotating galleries at the Autry's expense.
Displaying the Southwest Collection in Griffith Park
- The merger agreement states on page 9, section (i) that "the parties shall use all efforts to build a new facility adjacent to the existing Autry Museum to expand exhibition space and audience for programs relating to the Southwest." Our 2009 project to create a new building in Griffith Park would have created additional gallery spaces that included three to four galleries for the Southwest Museum on one side (keeping the Southwest Museum name) and reinterpreted Autry galleries on the other.
- Our curators have worked for years on new exhibitions for the opening of the new building, including First Californians, Katsina In Hopi Life, and Native American Diaspora exhibitions.
- When the Autry went before the L.A. City Council's Board of Referred Powers in June of 2009 for approval of our environmental impact plan, Councilman Huizar asked that, before the Board of Referred Powers gave permission to the Autry to begin construction on this $170 million project, the Autry should agree to reopen and run the Southwest Museum as a fully functioning museum in perpetuity. The Autry Board, knowing that this was not possible, was forced to reject Huizar's proposal and abandon our plans for the new building.
New Autry Resource Center
- In 2010, the Autry purchased a building about three miles away in Burbank that we plan to develop into a museum-quality storage space (just like the National Museum of the American Indian has in nearby Suitland, Maryland) and research facility open to researchers and scholars.
- The Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection will be housed safely in this new state-of-the-art facility, preserving the entire collection for generations to come, and making it easily accessible to scholars and the Native American community.
Proposed Griffith Park Gallery Remodeling Project
The current $6.6 million NEF Grant that we have been awarded by the State of California will be used to replace existing Cowboy/Western galleries on the Griffith Park museum's first floor with two Native American exhibitions. There is no expansion of the buildings existing footprint.
See the press release here.
- We are replacing our Opportunity Gallery (i.e. gold rush) and part of the Cowboy Gallery (saddles and art) as well as reinterpreting our outdoor space, Trails West, into a Native teaching garden.
- No new gallery space will be added. We will be renovating and installing approximately 7,600 square feet of existing galleries.
- The new exhibitions are called First Californians and Dreamers, Doctors, Basketweavers. All three areas will focus on the environment and Native American history, art, and culture. We received approval from our landlord, the Recreation and Parks Department, to proceed with the reinstallation.
- The reinstallation of our galleries with about 700 objects from the Southwest Museum Collection has absolutely no bearing on the future of the Southwest Museum site.
- The completion of the First Californians exhibition at the Autry will help visiting grade 3–5 teachers and students fulfill their state-mandated curricular standards on local Indian peoples, California history, and Native settlement prior to Euro-American contact. Teachers routinely request these tours, and the popularity of our Native American Basketry tour with school groups indicates the desire and need for more American Indian exhibitions in an easily accessible location.