New generations may have no idea who Cheech Marin, one half of the famous comedy act Cheech & Chong, a marijuana-loving duo that won over audiences during the 1970s and early 1980s, is.
However, Marin has been an institution in Hispanic representation on the small and big screens, being the sidekick to Don Johnson, Inspector Joe Dominguez in The Bridges of Nash, as well as the voice of famous Disney characters.
However, Cheech Marin’s true legacy has been his incredible collection of Chicano artifacts and artwork he collected while traveling the country during the 1980s.
Today, Marin’s collection numbers some 700 works of art and is believed to be one of the largest in the world.
The comedian-turned-serious collector said he is donating the “vast majority” of the pieces — some 550 paintings, photographs, sculptures, and other works — to the Riverside Museum of Art’s Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture, which will open Saturday, June 18.
As Forbes explained, officials from the city of Riverside, California, and the city’s Museum of Art approached Marin about converting his collection into a museum, using a two-story, 61,420 square-foot modernist building that was originally used as the city’s public library.
Since Marin was exhibiting a portion of his esteemed collection at the Riverside Museum of Art, located a block away, the city put two and two together, the magazine explained.
The museum is dedicated to Chicano/o/x art and has some 500 pieces Marin has personally collected and loaned to RAM for display.
“I was raised Catholic, and as a little child, I’d look up at the ceiling during mass, and there were pictures of guys in sheets walking around on the clouds and one guy in the corner being grilled for something. It’s intriguing, this art thing,” Marin said. “I had a group of cousins, and we were kind of bright kids, and a cousin assigned us all categories to research and bring back to the group when we were like 10; I got assigned art. How do you learn about art? I went to the library and started checking out books. Every Saturday, I went to the library, and that’s where I started learning ‘that’s Cézanne, that’s Miro, that’s da Vinci.’”
Carlos Tortolero, president and founder of the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, which has more than 18,000 pieces, said the center would raise Riverside’s profile in the California and Southwest arts community, and by extension, the country.
Drew Oberjuerge, executive director of the Riverside Museum of Art, told The Press Enterprise that the center hopes to attract 100,000 people a year, an estimate based on the current museum’s annual attendance, which is about half that, as well as Marin’s celebrity and the prominence of its art collection.
As Forbes explained, for Cheech Marin, the new museum is the culmination of a personal quest to answer “What is it to be Chicano?”
“Being a Chicano has always meant being in the middle—being an American, but also being proud of your roots,” Marin said in a statement. “Being a Chicano means forging your own path.”