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Debate over the future of Los Angeles’ first museum has raged for years, but according to the results of a recent survey, there’s a great deal of support for the Southwest Museum remaining a fully functioning museum, once again exhibiting the collections of Native American, Southwest, Pre-Hispanic, Spanish colonial, Latino and Western American art and artifacts it housed for decades.

Southwest Museum Survey

Founded in 1914 by Anthropologist and Indian Rights Activist Charles F. Lummis, the Southwest Museum sits atop a hill in the Mount Washington area of Northeast Los Angeles. On the verge of bankruptcy and in disrepair, it merged in 2003 with what is now the Autry National Center of the American West, the plan being that the Autry would restore the facility and conserve the museum’s archives for exhibit at the Mount Washington site.

But the majority of the collections were removed during the conservation process and the Autry now says it would cost too much to bring the facility up to modern museum standards. Instead, the collections will be displayed at the Autry’s Griffith Park location, a decision that has angered museum supporters.

Years of fighting over the museum’s future splintered support in the community, with some groups saying they would rather see the museum used as a community center than have it remain closed.

Years of fighting over the museum’s future splintered support in the community, with some groups saying they would rather see the museum used as a community center than have it remain closed.

The survey, conducted by El Plan del Southwest Museum—a non-profit organization that says it is dedicated to building a successful solution for the museum—was taken between July 25 and Aug. 31, 2014. The survey was intended to gauge local attitudes for use in future planning.

Survey results were released Dec. 18 and are available in English and Spanish.

According to statements in the survey, the methodology allowed respondents to provide input on their knowledge and attitude towards the Southwest Museum.

Of the 217 people surveyed from the Northeast Los Angeles area, 91% said it is important that the Southwest Museum continues functioning “as a contemporary museum.” Only 5% disagreed with the statement and 4% of those surveyed did not answer.

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Gabriel Buelna, co-founder of El Plan, told EGP during the museum’s 100th anniversary celebration that he doesn’t think enough people from the community have been involved in the debate over the museum’s future. “We are working on a process to see what people want” to do with the museum, he said.

Therefore, in partnership with the Autry, they developed the eight-question survey, which was distributed at public events such as the museum’s 100-year anniversary, the Latin Jazz Festival and at Northeast LA area Neighborhood Council meetings. Surveys were also received via mail and email.

Eighty percent of those surveyed said they want the Southwest collections to be shown at the Mount Washington site, compared to 16% who chose the Autry. An undefined number of participants said there should have been an option to “both” museums.

Of those surveyed, 87% agree it is “Very important/important that the Southwest Museum remains open for them and their community” in the Northeast area, while 68% understand that the museum holds “significant Native American and Latino collections,” although 96% of respondents were unclear about what’s in the collections, but still “believe identifying its contents is important.”

According to the executive summary, respondents have on average lived in the area for 26 years; 43% were male and 48% female and 75% had visited the Southwest Museum. There is also support for the facility “to be used for education, culture, restaurant, event space, Native American research, and gardens,” however, the Autry should “understand that by far and away the majority of Northeast Los Angeles residents are passionate about the Southwest Museum.” Despite being largely closed for nearly 11 years, having so many passionate supporters bodes well for the museum’s future, according the report.

“The next few months will be important as citizens from Northeast Los Angeles will be asked to take part in the process of defining the future of the Southwest Museum,” states a letter by the El Plan Del Southwest Museum. “Community members and stakeholders will both contribute input to help visualize an exciting future for the museum in Northeast Los Angeles and assure that it is sustainable.”

In a written statement, the Autry thanked El Plan for conducting the survey and said they welcome “ideas and input about potential uses.”

“The survey results are useful information that will contribute to the broader effort starting next year—led by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in partnership with the City and the Autry.”