After decades of fits and starts in the bid to preserve a politically provocative Siqueiros mural on an Olvera Street building, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and leaders at the J. Paul Getty Trust say they've made a $7.8-million deal to split the cost of making the 1932 work accessible to the public at last.
The money will build a protective shelter and viewing platform for the 18-by-80-foot "America Tropical," by Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros, and renovate the adjacent Sepulveda House as an interpretive center. Villaraigosa and City Councilman Jose Huizar will join Getty officials in a news conference at the site to announce the project this morning.
"This is a hidden gem that's been covered up since 1932, and it's been a struggle for the city to finally unveil it," said Rushmore D. Cervantes, general manager of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, which includes the mural.
The work is expected to take 18 months. The project is happening now, Cervantes said, because "the Getty was getting fed up and they gave us a deadline."
Siqueiros painted the work on an outdoor wall on the second floor of Olvera Street's Italian Hall building. It was immediately controversial -- the central image is a crucified Indian peasant under an American eagle -- and was first partially whitewashed, then entirely covered within six years of completion.
Yet by the reckoning of some, it was the state's first outdoor mural. Through the 1960s and 1970s, as appreciation grew for Siqueiros and other artists of the Mexican muralist movement, advocates including art historians and Latino groups called for conservation and display of the long-hidden work.
The Getty Conservation Institute and city officials began efforts to revive it in 1988, 14 years after the artist's death. Fifteen years later, the job was still incomplete and city officials were balking at the costs.
That year, the Getty threatened to withdraw its support if the city didn't give the project more money and attention, and then-City Councilman Villaraigosa called the lack of progress "a travesty."
Now the Getty is aboard again -- its conditional grant for $3.95 million was approved in May -- and Villaraigosa and the City Council have earmarked $3.87 million for the mural and the opening of the interpretive center to put the mural in historical and artistic context.
In addition to construction of the shelter, viewing platform, visitor bridge and interpretive center, the new spending will pay for annual reviews of the mural by Getty Conservation staff for 10 years.
Of the city's share, $2.4 million is to come from bond financing through the Municipal Improvement Corp. of Los Angeles; $1.35 million from the city's Arts and Cultural Facilities and Services Trust Fund; and $120,280 from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Cervantes said the City Council, which previously approved $1 million toward the project, approved the new spending July 14.
The Getty has reserved the right to walk away if the city doesn't commit at least $3.42 million, if construction doesn't begin by Feb. 1, or if it's not done by Jan. 31, 2009.
In the May 16 letter offering the grant, interim Getty Trust President Deborah Marrow and Getty Foundation interim Director Joan Weinstein described themselves as "delighted" to be underwriting the shelter and platform construction -- then listed their requirements, noting that "the city must keep the Getty informed on a bimonthly basis about the progress on the Interpretive Center and its construction. Failure to advance the Interpretive Center on the same timeline [as the shelter and platform construction] will result in the Getty's halting payments."
For now, the mural is protected from the elements by a metal cover and a tarp that has been imprinted with the image of the artwork it's protecting. Cervantes said he expected work to begin Feb. 1.