The nine members of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency voted unanimously on Tuesday to give the Mexican Museum a $250,000 lifeline to regroup and move toward its long awaited goal of opening downtown tucked into the cultural hub at Yerba Buena.
At present, the Mexican Museum is envisioned as part of a mixed use complex that will put the 12,000 object collection on the ground floor of a residential tower near the historic Mercantile Building.
The commission’s vote had no bearing on the museum’s on-going eviction dispute with the Fort Mason Center, but Eli Aramburo, chair of the advisory board, asked the commissioners to call a hearing on the issue and made it clear that she wanted the museum to stay at Fort Mason for the immediate future.
“It’s very important to have a conversation as to whether Fort Mason should renew,” Aramburo said with a flourish before the dull dong of the two-minute bell. “Now we have the funds so it’s very important that we have a public hearing about keeping” the museum at Fort Mason.
At present, Fort Mason wants the museum out when its lease ends in September. Mario Diaz, the co-chair of the museum, declined to talk about the issue saying he was exhausted from his drive from Napa and had too much on his mind.
Victor Marquez, the former chair, said it would help if “the mayor can sit down with Fort Mason” and resolve this to get the museum more time at the space it has leased since 1982. The cost and disruption of a move just as the museum has the funds to hire staff to re-open makes little sense, he said.
The board noted, and Marquez agreed, that the museum more realistically needed $500,000 to reorganize and hire staff.
On Tuesday, however, the main issue was not Fort Mason, but getting the Redevelopment Agency’s approval for the $250,000.
One by one, museum supporters, including a group of elegantly dressed Latina donors, working class women with children at their side and artists wearing sensible shoes, strode to the front of the room to underscore the importance of the museum.
Nora Wagner, the co chair who first worked with the museum when it opened on Folsom Street in the Mission District in 1975, talked about the “enormous success of the educational program.”
Olga Talamante, the executive director of the Chicana/Latina Foundation, spoke about the institutional racism young people face. “ Art helps and heals those wounds, it helps to connect the young people to their fellow human beings,” said Talamante.
Adriana Williams with the posture and bearing of an aristocrat, told the commissioners that her connection to Mexico was that “my grandfather was president in 1928,” and said simply, but firmly, “We need to have the Mexican museum in San Francisco.”
Williams and her husband Tom donated the Covarrubias Collection of of Pre-Conquest and Mexican Popular art.
In the end, the commissioners agreed with Williams and some of its members encouraged the museum to return for more funding if it meets the milestones set down in an agreement with the Arts Commission. Those benchmarks include adding board members, beginning a capital campaign and planning programming.
The Arts Commission will oversee the $250,000 and for those efforts, the commissioners awarded it $30,000.
In questioning from the commissioners, Amy Neches, the project manager for the Yerba Buena, offered a description of what the agency sees as a doable project.
Neches said the developer would pay to design and develop the 25,000 to 40,000 square foot shell. In addition, the agency had set aside $11 million and the new museum board would have to raise anywhere from $3 to $4 million depending on the final construction costs.
Neches pointed out that this is a far smaller sum than the board faced when the museum was a stand alone, $35 to $40 million project, at the same location.