Making NHM Commons a Reality
On March 31, 2020 the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the NHM Commons Project as part of future plans for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM), the anchor of Exposition Park. NHM will soon welcome visitors and neighbors to the Mark Ridley-Thomas Entrance Plaza on the southwest side of its Exposition Park campus as part of the NHM Commons Project on track to break ground in the summer of 2021.
“The Natural History Museum is pleased to name the NHM Commons entrance plaza in honor of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who has been a true champion of this institution, the project and of increasing access to the arts, science, culture and green space for the surrounding neighborhoods in the Second District and for all Angelenos,” commented Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, President and Director of the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County. “We are grateful for the many years of support and collaboration from the Supervisor and look forward to activating the plaza as a cultural hub and destination.”
The NHM Commons project encompasses 75,000 square feet of renovated space, new construction, and landscaping on the southwest side of its Exposition Park home. The transformative project is designed to offer an inviting, transparent “front porch” to the NHM campus, create a free welcome center, provide a new state-of-the-art theater and multipurpose space and increased exhibition spaces, and expand NHM’s broad-based programming.
The $60 million NHM Commons project has received a total of $56.6 million including $30 million in support from Los Angeles County and $9 million from the State of California. Another $17.6 million in commitments from foundations and individuals includes contributions from two individual donors who stepped up with lead gifts of $5 million each: the Annenberg Foundation to name the Wallis Annenberg Lobby, and the Perlstein Family to name the Judith Perlstein Welcome Center. Additional support was received from the Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation, and three anonymous donors.
A centerpiece of the Welcome Center is the mural by Chicana artist Barbara Carrasco, L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective. The 80-foot-long painting, recently acquired by the Museum from the artist, was commissioned in 1981 by Los Angeles's Community Redevelopment Agency. After it was done, Carrasco was asked to remove scenes deemed too controversial and when she refused, the mural went into storage. NHM last year became the first museum to show the full length of the mural in a special exhibition. Visitors, she hopes, will come away with a sense of pride that their history is very rich. The acquisition of Carrasco’s mural from the artist was made possible by a grant from the Vera R. Campbell Foundation and the mounting and presentation of the mural was supported by Nancy and John Edwards. Read the press release for the acquisition here.
“NHM is a wonderful place for my mural to be viewed as a permanent visual testament to the struggles and successes that the diverse communities of Los Angeles have experienced,” said Carrasco. “I have been looking for a home for this mural for many years. The Natural History Museum of L.A., where I came as a little girl, is the perfect home for it.”
Watch a video in which artist Barbara Carrasco reveals the backstory behind her mural.
Top image: Rendering of the Mark Ridley-Thomas Entrance Plaza, NHM Commons, a new community hub for exploring nature and culture and “front porch” for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in Exposition Park. Rendered by Frederick Fisher and Partners. Courtesy of the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County.