The largest Mexican museum in the United States will finally have a new home.
The big announcement drew dozens of politicians, elected officials, community leaders and residents last Tuesday morning to San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts District where board members of the premier West Coast museum held a special dedication ceremony and cornerstone presentation.
“We have been working tirelessly to bring this project together and it certainly hasn’t been easy. But, we are extremely excited to finally see our hard work and dedication come to fruition,” said Andrew M. Kluger, Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the museum.
Founded in 1975 by the Mexican-American artist Peter Rodriguez, the Mexican Museum is the oldest museum in the United States focused on Mexican, Mexican-American and Chicano art. Through the years, it has amassed well over 16,500 objects and artifacts spanning the breadth and scope of Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano, Latino and Latin American art and culture.
Most of the artifacts housed in the museum span 2,500 years of history dating back from pre-Hispanic times through more contemporary art forms. The museum aims to showcase a wide range of what is considered Latino art—from its ancient roots to its modern culture and evolving history.
“We are tremendously excited to host this milestone event for The Mexican Museum and the great City of San Francisco. It is our big moment,” said Kluger.
The Mexican Museum was originally located in the Mission District of San Francisco then in 2001, it moved to its present location, the Fort Mason Center. But through the years, it has outgrown its space. Museum officials estimate there are thousands of “treasures” such as rare pre-Hispanic pieces, paintings, sculptures, ceramics, textiles, prints, photographs, and mixed-media works that are crated in storage, waiting to be unveiled.
The new home for the Mexican Museum, which in 2012 became an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, will be located at 706 Mission Street near other popular cultural museums including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and the Museum of the African Diaspora. It will include over 60,000 square feet of space with four floors and a lower-level storage that will allow the museum to showcase their expansive collection and rotating exhibits.
The new space will also expand the museum’s permanent collection, permanent and temporary exhibitions, its education center and ‘La Tienda’, the Museum store.
The Museum will not be housed in a building of its own. It will occupy the first four floors of the new 510-foot tower at Jessie Square in the Yerba Buena Arts District. Total cost for the project is estimated at upwards of $86 million dollars with a majority of the capital being garnered through their ‘¡Adelante! Campaign’. The Museum is already a beneficiary of over $53 million dollars in pre-development and construction costs as well as $11 million committed in endowments.
Millennium Partners has committed $10 million dollars for the facade of the new museum. During the next four years, the ‘¡Adelante! Campaign’ will secure a wide range of gifts and donations from individuals, corporations, foundations and governmental agencies that will support the construction of the new Museum’s interior spaces.
Building development and construction of the museum will span over the next three years, with a projected grand opening in the Spring of 2019.
Spearheading the project has been a collaborative effort between the City and County of San Francisco, its Successor Agency (formerly the Redevelopment Agency) and the project developer, Millennium Partners as well as the California Cultural and Historical Endowment.
Enrique Norten, the world-renowned, award-winning architect and founder of the design firm, ‘Ten Arquitectos’ (Taller de Enrique Norten Arquitectos) with locations in México City and New York respectively, was contracted to design the Mexican Museum. At the ceremony, he expressed a profound gratitude for his involvement with the project.
“I want to dedicate this project to the Mexican and Central American people; they are my heroes and my brothers. This project is meant to celebrate your histories, hardships, your successes and especially your culture since it is the base of what will make you bigger and better in this country,” said Norten.
During a time when the political climate surrounding immigration and Latino immigrants has been tense, the City of San Francisco is immune.
“This is a country that has given opportunities to millions of immigrants like myself. Immigrants have long built this country; they are the real builders because they are the protagonists of growth and development. This is a country whose creed is tolerance— so let’s keep it that way,” added Norten.
California State Senator Mark Leno, (D-San Francisco) also praised the collaborative effort of stakeholders, community members and leaders in San Francisco who pulled the project together to get the Mexican Museum off the ground.
“At a time when too many angry and loud voices are talking about building 50 foot high walls, in San Francisco, we are building an edifice to civilization and of common humanity. The Mexican Museum should be applauded,” said Leno.
Also in attendance was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Claudia Ruiz Massieu, the Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs who flew in to attend the event.
“We are here to honor the culture of our Latino community here in San Francisco, and in doing so, recognizing its beauty, its importance and its wealth of contributions, not just in this city, but throughout this country,” said Pelosi.
For the first time since her appointment as the Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Massieu openly and candidly pushed aside the angry rhetoric being spewed by Donald Trump and his plans to build a wall between her country and the United States.
“When you hear someone talk about building borders between people, ideas or cultures, I invite you to think of San Francisco’s most iconic image. It is a bridge, it is a Golden Gate and it has opened the doors to all of us,” said Massieu.
Members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors also attended the ceremony. Some of the members who identify as Latino and trace their roots to Mexico expressed a deep sense of pride and joy as the Mexican Museum finally breaks ground.
“As people talk about immigration and the contributions of the Latino community and specifically, the Latino immigrant, this reminds us that we are not just immigrants. You cannot talk about the history of San Francisco without actually recognizing that we were here before many of the people that are now criticizing immigration,” said Davis Campos, Supervisor for District 9.
“Our ancestors made San Francisco what it is today and it is a very important time that we do this, not only because we are hearing more and more from the Donald Trump-types, but we need to make it clear that Latinos are just as integral a part of this community as any other and that we, in our contributions, are not going to be erased from the history and culture of this city,” he added.
The Museum’s founder, Rodriguez will not be able to see his life-long dream come to fruition. The late artist passed away days before his 90th birthday this year.
Rodriguez was born on June 25, 1926 in Stockton, California. His parents, Guadalupe García and Jesús Rodriguez emigrated from México in 1914 and raised nine siblings. At an early age, Peter showed great artistic promise garnering awards well throughout his young adulthood.
As a young man, he lived and worked in San Francisco in the advertising and fashion industry and won national awards for his window displays. At home, he painted and began to form his own private collection, occasionally exhibiting his work and winning awards.
By the 1970’s he founded Galería de la Raza, served as a Commissioner of the San Francisco Arts Commission and then founded the Mexican Museum which he curated for 10 years.