Cheech Marin’s Long-Awaited Chicano Art Museum Secures City Approval and $1 Million in Annual Funding

The California city of Riverside has approved plans and funding for the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture, and Industry.

Cheech Marin with a work from his collection of Chicano art. Photo courtesy of the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture & Industry of the Riverside Art Museum.

Comedian and actor Cheech Marin is a man of many interests—though you wouldn’t know if from his monomaniacal love of weed as one half of the legendary comedy duo Cheech and Chong. He is also an avid trivia player (he won the first Celebrity Jeopardy! tournament) and art collector, having put together a 700-work collection of Chicano art, which is thought to be the largest of its kind in the world.

Now, after years of planning, the long-awaited Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture of the Riverside Art Museum in Riverside, California, has finally received the green light from the city, and is on track to open this fall.

The Riverside City Council voted last week to approve plans to renovate the former city library to house the center, and to provide $1 million in annual funding to cover operating costs under a 25-year contract.

Three council members did not take part in the unanimous vote, including Chuck Conder, who called the contract a “betrayal” to taxpayers due to the city’s financial struggles, and “a lot of money to spend on a museum that wasn’t supposed to cost us anything,” according to the Press-Enterprise.

A city-funded management fee has been part of the deal since initial 2017 agreement between the museum and the city, a representative of the center told Artnet News in an email. (Conder abstained, while two other members who own nearby businesses or property recused themselves.)

The institution, nicknamed “The Cheech,” will be managed by the Riverside Art Museum, which is covering the $13 million cost of the library redesign through donations and a $9.7 million state grant. The building requires a new roof and HVAC system, upgraded elevators, and other renovations. The city has hired Hamel Contracting of Murrieta to oversee the project.

Marin, age 74, has already donated 11 works to the museum, and will give 500 more once storage facilities are constructed. The other works in his collection will be available to the center for loans.

A city report projects that Riverside will receive $3 million from its portion of admissions revenue over the first decade of operation, based on an expected annual attendance of 100,000. The Riverside Art Museum currently welcomes about 50,000 visitors each year, but Marin’s celebrity is expected to be an added draw for the new center.

US actor and director of Mexican origin Cheech Marin poses in front of a painting by US artist Wayne Alaniz Healy on June 26, 2014 at the Aquitaine museum in Bordeaux. Marin lent 70 artworks from his private collection to the museum for "Chicano Dream," an exhibition focused on US-Mexican artists. Photo by Mehdi Fedouach/AFP via Getty Images.

Cheech Marin poses in front of a painting by US artist Wayne Alaniz Healy on June 26, 2014 at the Aquitaine museum in Bordeaux. Photo by Mehdi Fedouach/AFP via Getty Images.

A 2019 documentary titled The Cheech: An American Icon’s Crusade for the Chicano Art Movement followed the actor’s efforts to increase the visibility of the Mexican American art movement, which he believes has been overlooked.

Before Marin discovered Chicano art, he has said, “I appreciated the art, I learned about it, but I never saw a painting that looked like me or anybody I knew in my neighborhood.”

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