Riverside, CA (April 9, 2021)—The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture of the Riverside Art Museum will open in Spring 2022. A public-private partnership between the Riverside Art Museum, the City of Riverside, and comedian Cheech Marin—one of the world’s foremost collectors of Chicano art—the center will be, as Cheech says, the “center of Chicano art, not only painting, but sculpture, photography, and video arts.” The Cheech will house hundreds of paintings, drawings, photographs, and sculptures by artists including Patssi Valdez, Sandy Rodriguez, Carlos Almaraz, Frank Romero, and Gilbert “Magú” Luján.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a small non-traditional “groundbreaking” was filmed at the 61,420-square-foot facility, which was originally opened to the public as the Riverside Public Library in 1964, to officially commemorate the beginning of construction by Hamel Contracting Inc. 

“My mantra’s always been that if you are doing something good, good things will happen to you,” said Marin during the groundbreaking. “As we go along this path, I am fully convinced that this museum and the center for Chicano art and culture was meant to be, and it was meant to be here in Riverside and the Inland Empire. It is beyond my wildest dreams of what we could do with this building. First of all, having the building offered to us is an amazing thing, and we hope we can do it proud to bring honor and glory to a long tradition of historic buildings here in Riverside, California.”

The center, nicknamed The Cheech, is a perfect adaptive reuse of this mid-century building and the historic and vintage aspects will be preserved in its transformation from a library to a museum and cultural center.

Nationally recognized architect and historic preservation expert Page & Turnbull and premier museum designer WHY have revealed further details of their concept for the new space. 

The guiding principles of the design were developed through a series of community outreach workshops, which engaged a diverse cross-section of stakeholders from the city, including artists, educators, activists, business owners, and local residents. Additional programming featured a pop-up presentation as part of the Riverside Artswalk back in February 2018, which invited passersby to comment on the project and learn about its prospective impact on the city. 

The sessions were a chance for stakeholders to articulate their hopes about what The Cheech could be, as well as discuss key concerns and ensure that the design allowed for uninhibited expression of Chicano culture. It was clear that community members did not want another art world “white box”—instead, the site will create an environment infused with sabor, or flavor, and present a space of radical hospitality, color, and vitality.

The site in its entirety will convey the spirit of The Cheech, with outdoor spaces encouraging art programming, impromptu performances, and experiences of all types—from lowriders, to quinceañeras, to outdoor sculpture. 

The semi-circular entry steps draw the visitor towards the building, and the open “front porch” podium will feature large-scale sculptures to be rotated according to new programming and exhibitions. The building’s entry lobby is envisaged as a zócalo or open town square, a central gathering space that will connect the four main galleries and offer amenities such as a gift shop and, eventually, a cafe.

One of the most striking features of the space will be the visual connection to the upper galleries, highlighted by the installation of a newly commissioned work of lenticular art by brothers Einar and Jamex De La Torre. The monumentality and dynamism of the installation will generate a central source of energy for The Cheech, encouraging visitors to explore the different galleries. Accessed by a restored mid-century stairway, the second floor will feature exhibition and community art galleries, a multi-purpose video space, staff offices, and artist-in-residency studios where visitors can witness the next generation of Chicano art as it emerges. 

The aim is to retain the civic history of the former library as a vital space for the community, making space for multiple intersecting cultural narratives. Rather than applying a dramatic, top-down approach to transforming the building, WHY worked closely with Page & Turnbull’s historic preservation team to identify a series of carefully localized interventions, addressing each point sequentially to reinvigorate the structure while preserving its historic character. This approach—which WHY terms “acupuncture architecture”—acts to defragment the spaces and improve circulation, bringing a new openness and flow to the spaces. 

While visually striking in its own right, the building will allow the art to take center stage. The Cheech is set to have a catalytic effect on the cultural life of the city, sparking new dialogues and strengthening the appreciation of Chicano culture as a vital part of the national story. In the words of Cheech Marin: “You can’t love or hate Chicano art unless you see it.”