The Southwest Society Passes ³100 Days² Marked by Secrecy and Inaction
Los Angeles, CA – January 10, 2008 – The Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition, an umbrella group representing over 70 organizations concerned about the future of the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles, calls into question the lack of promised fundraising and the continued secrecy surrounding The Southwest Society. This new entity, announced by the Autry National Center, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilmember José Huizar over 100 days ago, remains elusive.
The public has yet to receive any further information concerning the details of The Southwest Society, a clarification that was asked for months ago by the Coalition. In the public interest, the Coalition demands that the Autry and our elected officials provide a more transparent and accurate explanation of this undefined entity that has been put in place to confuse the public and buffer the Autryıs promised merger intentions and fiduciary obligations. (Note: Please see the attached Top 10 List of Unanswered Questions.)
³Our elected officials are well known in Northeast Los Angeles for issuing detailed and exhaustive accomplishment reports at the 100 day mark of service. Itıs been well over 100 days for The Southwest Society and the silence is deafening,² said Nicole Possert, Chair of the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition and Highland Park Heritage Trustıs organizational representative.
A list of ³Honorary Charter Members² was included at the time of the Societyıs announcement. In the last 100 days, the Coalition has spoken to many of these listed persons. It is clear that they lent their names without sufficient details or an understanding that the future limited use would not be a full museum. They have lent their names because of political courtesy or simply because they were asked by an elected official. Several have indicated that there has been no further communication, meetings or information from the Autry since lending their names to this phantom organization.
³Based on this inaction and secrecy, we have to ask, Is the Southwest Society merely an illusion? Can the public entrust the future of the Southwest Museum to a group that hasnıt held one meeting of its members?,ı² questioned Possert.
At the September 27, 2007 press conference that excluded the public and the Coalition, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Councilmember José Huizar and the Autry National Center announced the formation of this new entity, The Southwest Society. The stated purpose was to raise funds to restore and revitalize the Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe for Autryıs new purpose of converting them into some vague cultural and educational uses rather than retaining their primary functions as full museums.
This purpose gives the false appearance that the issues are resolved through the efforts of The Southwest Society during a critical time that Autry is simultaneously seeking project approvals for a massive 250,000 square foot structure in Griffith Park. This project, if realized, results in the unnecessary removal and loss of the Cityıs first museum institution – Charles Fletcher Lummisı Southwest Museum in the Arroyo Seco area of Los Angeles.
The Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition have a simple, consistent and long-held position since the 2003 merger that created the Autry National Center:
Ĝ Retain and create a world class Southwest Museum as the primary exhibition location of the Southwest Collection in its original location as promised by Autry officials at the time of the merger
Ĝ Ensure, via an enforceable agreement, that there is a future museum use for both the Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe
This position is based upon the factual findings from two studies indicating that the rehabilitation, maintenance and continuing operation of the historic facilities, can be accomplished on a sound economic basis. Autry commissioned the first large comprehensive studied led by Brenda Levin and Associates entitled ³Southwest Museum Rehabilitation Report² which concluded that there is a way to achieve future success as a museum with over 12,000 square feet of space devoted to the exhibition of the Collection. But the Autry Board of Directors, through CEO John Gray, rejected that plan and turned its back on the communities of the Arroyo who supported it. These studies are available only at the Coalitionıs website (www.FriendsofTheSouthwestMuseum.com) as Autry ignores its own consultantsı work.
Autryıs so-called current plans to convert to a cultural center wonıt save the Southwest Museum as a museum destination. They will enable Autry to relocate and absorb the Southwest Museum into a new larger museum in Griffith Park while gutting the first museum in Los Angeles from its important iconic location in the Arroyo Seco. That is why the Coalition asks the public, especially any potential donors to The Southwest Society, to get the facts, demand transparency and learn the truth about Autryıs possible plans.
The Coalitionıs position is consistent. It offers a real vision for the future of the Southwest Museum, embracing necessary change and providing hope for our children, community and future generations. We believe that Northeast Los Angeles can and must retain the Southwest Museum to provide our wonderfully diverse peoples a museum gem to enjoy for the next 100 years. After five years, the Coalition is growing in size, volunteering and actively working towards a vibrant museum future. We hope that The Southwest Society can make itself known, re-define its purpose and raise the necessary funds for a full museum use that opens in 2010 or 2011, as Autry has previously promised the people and political leaders of Los Angeles.
TOP 10 List of Unanswered Questions about The Southwest Society
The vagueness of The Southwest Society and the unanswered questions cause a failure of any assurance of its viability. Here is the Friends of the Southwest Museumıs list of questions, gone unanswered for over 100 days:
1. Why canıt this group raise funds for a full museum use, such as Option B in Autryıs own 2004 Brenda Levin Rehabilitation Study which was proven viable within museum industry norms? Or give further study and consideration to the Coalitionıs Alternative Plan which includes new space for an education/cultural center that is desired by Autry?
2. How much money is this new group going to raise? There are no big-name philanthropists on this list.
3. When will it raise this money in order to get the Southwest Museum re-opened in 2010/11 as Autry has previously claimed it would do?
4. Why would any sophisticated private donor give money to this group that has no Autry board members serving and no formal authority over the Southwest Museum site?
5. What is the legal structure of this ³entity² and how will it legally operate? Is it an independent nonprofit separate from the Autry as reported by the Los Angeles Times?
6. Has each member of this new group donated or pledged a large donation that is a typical requirement for fundraising group members? Do they have the financial ability to make their own donation?
7. Is this a separate capital campaign from the Autryıs $150 million Griffith Park effort to raise funds from the private foundation and donor community currently underway? Why should it be a separate initiative?
8. Where is the transparency in the actions of this organization, and who is its leader?
9. If someone wanted to be a member, what are the board requirements and minimum level of giving? Who accepts or approves participation?
10. Whereıs the oversight of these funds? Who will ensure that any funding raised will go to protect and restore the Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe?
These are simple questions that should have been answered months ago by Autry or the elected officials or whoever really is controlling this entity. This lack of transparency and openness leads the community to question whether The Southwest Society is merely window dressing for political folly that attempted to discourage public involvement in protecting the heart of the community and its beloved Southwest Museum.
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