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Latino Museum's Official Launch an Upbeat Affair

February 15, 1996|PATRICK J. McDONNELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Decades in the conceptual and planning stages, the Latino Museum of History, Art and Culture was finally dedicated Wednesday in an upbeat ceremony that included Hollywood luminaries, politicians, Latin American diplomats and more than 100 area schoolchildren.

"Latinos have shaped the history of our city from the time it was a small pueblo," noted Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan from a podium set up on Main Street outside the downtown museum, just south of City Hall. "And Latinos are shaping our future."

Despite Wednesday's dedication, the museum will not host its first show until at least this fall, and possibly not until next year, once renovation work is completed, said Denise Lugo, the museum's director who also teaches Latin American art history at El Camino Community College in Torrance.

Intended as a showcase for Latino achievements, the museum plans to present exhibitions celebrating the artistic, cultural and historic contributions of Latinos "in the United States, the Americas and throughout the world." The museum plans to host film festivals, art symposiums, cultural and educational events for youths, and myriad other events promoting Latino artistic and cultural expression.

"This will focus attention internationally on the California Latino sensibility," vowedRosana DeSoto, the actress who is vice president of the museum board. "It will give us a distinct profile. I'm tired of people in London and Paris identifying L.A. with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck."

While emphasizing the contributions of Latinos in California, museum planners stressed a broad definition of Latino heritage, with its rich mix of indigenous, European, African and other influences. The museum may host exhibitions from Spain, Portugal and other regions that have helped shape a heterogenous culture.

One of the first planned exhibitions is a retrospective of "Los Four," a group of Los Angeles-based artists who are considered pioneers of the Chicano art movement. The group included Frank Romero, Gilbert "Magu" Lujan, Beto de la Rocha and the late Carlos Almaraz. Museum directors hope to acquire, gradually, a permanent collection to complement revolving exhibitions.

The museum, at 112 Main St., is located in a one-story former Bank of America branch. The museum had originally planned to purchase the building, but the bank is now providing the 40,000-square-foot property in a 15-year, $1 per-year lease arrangement.

Others present at the sun-splashed ceremony included actors Andy Garcia and Maria Conchita Alonso, four City Council members, U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles) and California Sen. Charles Calderon (D-Los Angeles), president of the board of trustees. Calderon helped win the initial $350,000 in state funds for the museum almost 10 years ago.

The museum's annual operating budget, Calderon said, will be about $1.2 million, mostly from donations and anticipated grants from various levels of government. A $300,000 city grant is helping to fund renovations and a like amount is being sought from the county.

The dedication comes at a time when many community representatives say nativist resentment against immigrants--and, indeed, against all Latinos and even the use of the Spanish language--is on the rise. Several speakers alluded to this backdrop.

The museum, said Jose Angel Pescador Osuna, Mexico's consul general in Los Angeles, "fills an inexplicable void" in a community with deep historical links to Mexico and an emerging Latino majority. The consul expressed hope that the museum would help counter "stereotypes and intolerance."

Mexican authorities donated a ficus tree, symbolic of Mexico, to be planted at the museum, and also plan to donate a collection of art books, along with a replica of the Cross of Palenque, a well-known Mayan artifact. Mayor Riordan, meanwhile, contributed on behalf of the city a silk-screen monoprint, "A New Los Angeles," by local artist Roberto Gutierrez.

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