The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) has announced updates for NHM Commons, a new wing and intended community hub slated to open in 2024 on the southwest side of the Natural History Museum (NHM) campus in Exposition Park. Progress includes the formation of two new advisory groups, the NHM Commons Native American Advisory Council and the NHM Commons Advisory Coalition. The Council’s Native American community leaders are working closely with NHMLAC staff and Studio-MLA to advise on the NHM Commons’ Community Plaza entry and landscaping to incorporate aspects that acknowledge the unceded lands in Los Angeles County and honor the communities of Native Americans who call Los Angeles their home. NHM Commons Advisory Coalition members will consult on community collaborations for future theatrical and public programming, as well as topics and content ideas relevant to their communities.
The transformative $75 million NHM Commons expansion and renovation project, designed by Frederick Fisher & Partners with landscape design by Studio-MLA, will create approximately 75,000 square feet of renovated space and new construction that will serve as both a destination and a portal into the Museum, with new experiences designed by Studio Joseph. The indoor/outdoor NHM Commons spaces will enable NHM to expand its community-centered, co-created programming, thereby further connecting the public with science, nature, culture, heritage, and community, while creating opportunities for people to come together to experience NHM, with or without a ticket.
“I am thrilled to announce the creation of two NHM Commons advisory groups consisting of incredible community leaders who have joined us to guide program development for this new wing and beyond,” said Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, NHMLAC President and Director. “We envision NHM Commons as a community gathering place, and the collective influence of these councils will help us deliver on that promise. As construction moves forward on the site’s beautiful and inviting new indoor and outdoor spaces, we have been building upon our strategic principle of being museums of, for and with L.A. and shaping an NHM Commons philosophy grounded in co-curation with fellow Angelenos. Our community leaders provide a depth of experience, expertise, and perspectives that guide us toward fulfilling our values and mission.”
The foundational work of the Native American Advisory Council, which represents various descendant communities in Southern California including Gabrieleno-Tongva, Tataviam, Chumash, and Ajachmem, is rooted in determining ways to build a sense of welcome, acknowledgement, and respect for Native people who enter this space and opportunities to remind, express to and educate visitors that Los Angeles is on Native land. Members include cultural educator and traditional Chumash textile artist Tima Lotah Link, Schmuwich Chumash; artist and activist L. Frank Manriquez, Tongva / Ajachmem / Rarámuri; archaeologist Desireé Reneé Martinez, Tongva, Ti’at Society; Mark Villasenor, Tribal Senator, Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians; and Tongva Taraxat Paxaavxa Conservancy Land Return Coordinator Samantha Morales Johnson, Gabrieleno-Tongva Band of Mission Indians.
The NHM Commons Advisory Coalition is a group of community leaders identified and recruited by NHMLAC’s Programs and Community Engagement teams to help develop new programming and community initiatives leading up to the opening of NHM Commons and beyond. The 11 members of the Coalition are Betty Avila, Executive Director, Self Help Graphics & Art; Dr. Carroll J. Brown III, Director, Fostering Resiliency Project (FRP); Paula Cizmar, Resident Playwright, Environmental Justice and professor of theater practice at USC School of Dramatic Arts; Jewel Delegall, Chief Program Officer, A Place Called Home; David Levine, Chief Creative Officer, Anonymous Content; Karen Mack, Executive Director, LA Commons; Samantha Morales Johnson, Tongva Taraxat Paxaavxa Conservancy Land Return Coordinator; Dr. Yewande Pearse, neuroscientist, science communicator and business analyst; Jacob Pratt, Producer and Director at Skoden Entertainment; Mark Rose, Recreation Supervisor, City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, and Expo Center; and Katherine Yeom, Executive Director, Korean American Family Services.
Opening new doors to the natural and cultural worlds, NHM Commons replaces opaque exterior walls with a transparent glass façade, enabling the public to see into the Museum and its collections from the park. Sustainable gardens, created in close consultation with the Native American Advisory Council, will provide shaded spaces for community use. A new plaza will be a spacious and communal gathering point for events and relaxation, and serve as the Museum’s “front porch” for Exposition Park.
When NHM Commons opens, a 400-seat multi-purpose theater will offer new diverse programming for all ages, including daytime and evening performances, discussions, festivals, and educational content co-curated with the community. Indoor experiences accessible to the public without a ticket will include the Judith Perlstein Welcome Center, which will house Gnatalie, the first real skeletal mount of a long-neck dinosaur on the West Coast, and Barbara Carrasco’s mural L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective, plus a new cafe with indoor/outdoor seating and new retail space inside the airy Wallis Annenberg Lobby.
Gnatalie’s unique green-colored fossils, excavated from what was a riverbed 150 million years ago during the late Jurassic period, were recently packed in multiple crates and trucked in a semi to Ontario, Canada, for armature and “mount” fabrication. The dinosaur specimen will be positioned and ready for public viewing during the opening of NHM Commons. The skeleton of Gnatalie has an unusual green color, due to bone infilling by the green mineral celadonite during the fossilization process. The colossal skeleton is a composite of several specimens belonging to a Diplodocus-like dinosaur; with its distinctive color, Gnatalie will be the first green dinosaur skeleton to be mounted for display worldwide. A digital exhibition of images that show Gnatalie’s progress from “ground to mount'' may be viewed at gnatalie.nhm.org.
With its unique green color and imposing size, the 70-foot-long Gnatalie will be a great source of wonder for visitors to NHM. I'm particularly excited knowing that this mount will live in a community space, which reflects the diverse backgrounds of the people involved in the collecting efforts,” said Dr. Luis Chiappe, Senior VP, Research & Collections and Gretchen Augustyn Director and Curator, Dinosaur Institute. “We are grateful to all the supporters who made our decade-long excavation possible and are making Gnatalie’s display accessible without a ticket to help us inspire a new generation of scientists.”
NHM Commons is supported by NHMLAC’s Opening New Doors Campaign, which has exceeded $100 million and includes funding for NHM Commons construction as well as endowment and programmatic fundraising efforts. The NHM Commons project is supported by leadership gifts and grants from the following public and private contributors: County of Los Angeles - $30 million; State of California - $9 million; Annenberg Foundation - $5 million; Ron Perlstein, in memory of Judith Perlstein - $5 million; Ahmanson Foundation - $2 million; The Rose Hills Foundation - $2 million, and The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation - $1 million.
“The newly announced Native American Advisory Council and NHM Commons Advisory Coalition demonstrate County efforts to formally recognize Los Angeles’s ancestral communities and expand access to inclusive spaces where the public can explore the wonders of science and celebrate our diverse cultures” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell, 2nd District. “I am thrilled that residents throughout the Second District and LA County will soon experience these investments that will impact generations to come.”
NHM Commons is part of a larger 10-year institutional vision for increasing access to research and collections that will provide more resources and amenities for neighboring communities and create integrated indoor-outdoor destinations at both NHM in Exposition Park and at La Brea Tar Pits in Hancock Park. The reimagining of La Brea Tar Pits—the only active urban paleontological site in the world—has begun with the early stages of master planning under the direction of the architectural team of Weiss/Manfredi.
About the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County
The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) include the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park, La Brea Tar Pits in Hancock Park, and the William S. Hart Museum in Newhall. They operate under the collective vision to inspire wonder, discovery, and responsibility for our natural and cultural worlds. The museums hold one of the world’s most extensive and valuable collections of natural and cultural history—more than 35 million objects. Using these collections for groundbreaking scientific and historical research, the museums also incorporate them into on- and offsite nature and culture exploration in L.A. neighborhoods, and a slate of community science programs—creating indoor-outdoor visitor experiences that explore the past, present, and future. Visit NHMLAC.ORG for adventure, education, and entertainment opportunities.
Claire Atkinson, NHMLAC
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Maura Klosterman-Vu, Polskin Arts