The Cheech Hits a Fundraising Milestone

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(This article was written by Ryan Hagen and published in The Press-Enterprise on June 8, 2018.)

Before he was a best-selling actor and comedian, Cheech Marin was an art lover.

It started when he was about 11, admiring the ceilings during Mass, Marin said in a Thursday, June 7, interview.

“There were all these paintings there, guys in togas and some of them getting barbecued – what’s the deal?” he said, chuckling. “So art was very important to me and I learned as much as I could about it by going to the library to check out the art books.”

But even as Marin enthusiastically attended museums in his free time as a child, he noticed something missing.

“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,” he said.

But those paintings exist. Since about 1985 — the same year the comedy duo Cheech & Chong disbanded — Marin has collected more than 700 pieces of Chicano art, each disproving the stereotype that Chicanos can’t do fine art.

And Thursday, June 7, he came to Riverside to celebrate a milestone for the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture & Industry, which would focus on people like those born in East L.A. and other Chicano neighborhoods.

Fundraising for “the Cheech” — as he dubbed it — had beaten the $3 million target for the first stage by more than $100,000, allowing the project to continue moving toward a planned 2020 opening.

Elected and community leaders hailed the achievement Thursday with speeches at the downtown Riverside branch of Altura Credit Union. The Riverside-based credit union gave the campaign its largest private donation — $600,000.

“We reached for the Cheech and we got him,” Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey said.

Bailey thanked the Riverside Art Museum, donors and former City Manager John Russo, singling out Russo’s “vision and dedication to this project.”

City officials have estimated the center will cost $7 million to $10 million. Bailey said the City Council will be asked this summer to approve an agreement that includes a new fundraising goal as well as an outline of what needs to be done to convert the city’s Main Library into a Chicano art center.

The library is set to move to the former bus terminal on Mission Inn Avenue at Fairmount Boulevard.

Opening the Cheech will create a cross-cultural magnet for art lovers and those looking to connect with their cultural heritage, Bailey said.

“But there is also a business side to the equation,” he said. “A world-class art museum draws visitors to our city, potentially from all around the globe. These visitors book hotel rooms, pay bed tax, eat in our local restaurants and frequent our coffee shops and nightspots. The arts are one of the drivers that make Riverside a good place to do business.”

Marin, who was approached by Riverside officials after they saw his exhibition at the Riverside Art Museum in 2017, said this was the right home for the center.

“Why Riverside? Because it’s going to be the next big arts town,” he said. “They are set up to do it. They are historically an appreciator of art throughout their existence, and everybody senses that this is a chance to participate in that and … the first specific Chicano museum of art.”

The fundraising campaign, dubbed “Reach for the Cheech,” announced May 29 that it had hit its fundraising target of $3 million. That was the deadline set by the first agreement among the Riverside Art Museum, Cheech Marin and the city of Riverside.

Organizers plan to open the center in 2020 with three levels: a main level housing the permanent exhibition space for Marin’s collection, a museum store and a restaurant; an upper level with temporary exhibition space and places for programs, performances and lectures; and a lower level with an academic resource center, space for education classes and a collection storage area.

People can donate by texting the word “Cheech” to 91-999 or visiting thecheechcenter.org for other ways to contribute.