Cheech Marin receives a key to the city of Riverside from Riverside Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson during the opening of the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture of the Riverside Art Museum on June 16, 2022. They stand in front of a two-story lenticular piece of art, created by the de la Torre Brothers and commissioned by the Cheech itself. (Brian Feinzimer/for LAist)
Actor Cheech Marin is a longtime champion of Chicano art who has spent nearly four decades collecting work and advocating for the inclusion of Chicano artists at U.S. museums.
Marin rose to fame as a comedy star with partner Tommy Chong, their material built around a love of marijuana. Along with developing a diverse range of roles as an actor in the decades since, he also amassed a huge private collection. He’s now sharing it through the Riverside Art Museum’s new Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture — or simply, “The Cheech.”
The 61,420-square-foot center — formerly Riverside’s main city library — now houses one of the largest permanent collections of Chicano art in the world. Chicano is a term that became popular in the 1960s among Mexican Americans and Latinos to describe themselves as politicized.
The grand opening this Saturday is a big day for Latino art in the U.S. The Molina Family Latino Gallery also opens Saturday at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
The gallery is currently within the Museum of American History and marks the first physical presence for the upcoming National Museum of the American Latino. It was created with the help of a $10 million gift from a Southern California family — the sons and daughters of Dr. C. David Molina, founder of Molina Healthcare in Long Beach.
Why The Inland Empire Makes A Perfect Home For This Collection
Giving this collection a permanent home in the Inland Empire “was an opportunity that was meant to happen,” Marin told LAist. “People were ready for this message, they were ready to see this — and they had kind of seen it before, because I had been touring the collection in one form or another for many years.”
He’s held other shows at the Riverside Art Museum, as well as across the country and in Europe. The first one broke attendance records for the museum, according to Marin — as his Chicano art did elsewhere, including breaking a 25-year record at the Smithsonian.
Marin started looking into the makeup of the local Riverside community, which is more than 50 percent Latino according to census data.The Cheech expects more than 100,000 visitors each year.
“Even the naysayers really quickly came on board, because you have to see Chicano art in order to appreciate it — and they started appreciating it,” Marin said.
Whether they’re Chicanx/Latinx or not, Center Artistic Director María Esther Fernández said, she’s hopeful about the impact this art will have on audiences.
“I hope … that they’re moved to learn about their neighbors, that they’re moved to see a group of people that have helped build this country,” Fernández said.
A Mania For Chicano Art
Marin credits his ex-wife, painter Patti Heid, for taking him to galleries and helping him fill the gap in his knowledge around contemporary art.
He was drawn to three artists early on: George Yepes, Frank Romero, and Carlos Almaraz.
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