A Republican running for an Inland Assembly seat called a planned Riverside museum featuring Chicano art collected by comedian Cheech Marin a “stoner art museum,” though the museum has no connection to Marin’s past marijuana-themed humor.
Bill Essayli made the comment on Twitter while criticizing the use of $9.7 million in state funding to help the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture and Industry open in 2020.
“$10 million for a stoner art museum. Is that really the best use of our tax dollars when Californians are struggling to survive in the least affordable state?” Essayli, who is running against Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes, D-Riverside, tweeted on June 29 in reaction to news of money for the museum being included in the state budget.
In a statement, Essayli said: “Richard ‘Cheech’ Marin made millions starring in his Cheech and Chong comedy movies glorifying illicit drug use. What I don’t find funny is having Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes hand him nearly $10 million of our tax money for a museum, while at the same time telling struggling California families she has to raise their taxes because we don’t have enough money for roads, schools, or to combat homelessness.
“As a Lebanese-American, I know how important it is to celebrate diverse cultures, and I join in celebrating Chicano culture. However, I believe we must find ways to do so with private funding.”
Representatives from Cervantes’ campaign couldn’t immediately be reached Wednesday, July 25.
In an earlier interview, Marin said he has been an art lover since childhood, but he noticed that museums didn’t carry pictures of Chicanos. Once he had the resources, in 1985, he began building a 700-piece collection to show the breadth of work by Latinos in the United States.
Parts of the collection were shown in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Smithsonian and other museums before an exhibit at the Riverside Art Museum inspired a larger, permanent home in the city.
The museum will showcase serious art collected by a multi-faceted person whose comedic past isn’t part of the exhibit, said Drew Oberjuerge, executive director of the Riverside Art Museum, which will oversee the museum’s administration and programming.
“Cheech is indisputably the most renowned collector of Chicano art, and the quality of that work has been shown in major institutions across the nation,” she said, adding that the museum’s namesake often speaks eloquently about individual art pieces or the Chicano movement.
“I imagine it’s easy to dismiss something they haven’t seen or known, but the track record for the Cheech collection speaks for itself.”
The money raised so far is to renovate the building that now houses Riverside’s Main Library, on Mission Inn Avenue, next to the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa, and turn it into the museum. Future fundraising will help pay for building upgrades and a reserve.
A former federal prosecutor, Essayli is running against Cervantes in California’s 60th Assembly District, which includes part of Riverside along with Corona, Norco, Eastvale and Jurupa Valley. He finished ahead of Cervantes in the June 5 primary, a sign the race could be competitive heading into November.
Essayli’s campaign has zeroed in on Cervantes’ swing vote for SB 1, a $52.4 billion transportation funding bill passed by the legislature in 2017 that raised California’s gas tax by 12 cents a gallon. He hopes anger over the higher gas tax — Prop. 6 seeks to undo SB 1 — will resonate in a district where many commute long distances to work.
A first-term assemblywoman who defeated Republican Eric Linder in 2016, Cervantes has defended her vote for SB 1, noting that she secured more than $400 million in transportation infrastructure funding for her district and got Gov. Jerry Brown to restore vehicle license fee revenue to Eastvale, Jurupa Valley, Menifee and Wildomar.