The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture of the Riverside Art Museum, California, has broken ground and will open in spring next year. The project is led by architecture firm Page & Turnbull and design firm WHY.
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 Marin 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 and nontraditional ‘groundbreaking’ was filmed at the 5706-m2 (61,420-sf) 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,” Marin said during the groundbreaking. “As we go along this path, I am fully convinced 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 Cheech is an adaptive reuse of a mid-century building, and the historic and vintage aspects will be preserved in its transformation from a library to a museum and cultural center.
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.
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 toward 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.
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, the building will allow the art to take center stage. The Cheech aims 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 Marin: “You can’t love or hate Chicano art unless you see it.”