Southwest Museum: The Long Slog to Save It

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A collection-sharing deal between the Autry Museum of the American West and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is likely to result in more exhibits of artifacts from the largely shuttered Southwest Museum of the American Indian, located in Mount Washington. Currently, most of the museum’s artifacts are in storage at the Autry’s facility in Burbank.

By increasing the opportunities to display the artifacts, the deal also reduces any temptation the Autry might face to sell some of them, said Ann Walnum, a member of the Friends of the Southwest Museum who has been critical in the past of the Autry’s stewardship of the Southwest Museum collection. Her concern, she says, centers mostly on those pieces in the collection that are not artifacts from the Western United States, which is the Autry’s key focus.

But the deal, struck earlier this year, will not resolve long standing issues at the Southwest Museum building itself. The search is still on for a financial partner to invest sizable sums to restore the 104-year old edifice, so that it can function as a museum once again.

At present, four parties are examining the property as part of due-diligence reviews before committing any money, according to Maren Dougherty, a spokesperson for the Autry. Ms. Dougherty also confirmed that a high-profile, deep-pocketed non-profit endowment had recently declined to move ahead with an investment.

Frank Parello, a member of the Steering Committee of the Southwest Museum, told the Boulevard Sentinel he was not sorry to see the endowment go, because its plan was mainly to convert the building to office space for the endowment’s employees, with only minimal usage as a museum.

The Autry’s Ms. Dougherty acknowledged that the effort to save the Southwest Museum has been slow. One reason, she said, is that the potential partners are all at different stages in their reviews, which makes it hard to know when the process will conclude. Another reason is that new potential partners are still welcome to begin a review if they’re interested. An advantage of that, she said, is that a combination of partners could turn out to be better than just one.

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