How L.A.’s Autry Museum is changing the ways Indigenous artifacts are held

An offerings urn with shells and burnt offerings (likely sage) is seen through a cluster of reeds.
An urn for offerings inhabits a ceremonial area at the Autry Museum’s Resources Center, a new research and collections-care facility.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Buenos días! And welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Nov. 17 — a.k.a. the middle of Scorpio season. And I’m Carolina A. Miranda, The Times’ art and design columnist and author of the Essential Arts newsletter, here with everything California.

A new model

Early last month, comedian John Oliver devoted an entire episode of his show to looting, offering a broad and very funny 101 on the ways in which Western arts institutions (auction houses, museums, art dealers, collectors and more) have been complicit in the trade of objects that were — to put it elegantly — stolen. The segment hopscotches from the British Museum in London to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, but what most caught my eye was a segment that showed elders from the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes going to visit their culture’s artifacts at the Field Museum in Chicago.

In a secure storage unit, accessed only by card key, they find their culture’s most important spiritual artifacts tucked into boxes labeled with Sharpies. The elders look devastated. In Native tradition, ceremonial objects are regarded as living, imbued by the spirits of ancestors. Entombing them in the bowels of a museum, therefore, is to rob them of life. On camera, Northern Arapaho Chairman Jordan Dresser expressed his dismay. “When I think about objects that belong to tribal members just sitting there in the dark,” he said, “I felt angry.”


In recent years, some museums have begun to take a new approach to how they steward ceremonial objects — and L.A.’s Autry Museum of the American West is an important player in that shift. Late last month, the museum opened a new Resources Center in Burbank, a $32-million, 100,000-square-foot facility intended to harbor the museum’s collections of Native and other artifacts. It also provides a specially designed ritual space for California’s Indigenous peoples, who can now employ sacred objects held in the collection in ceremonies.

It’s been an epic undertaking.

In 2003, the Autry merged with the Southwest Museum — founded by Charles Fletcher Lummis in 1907 — putting it in charge of more than 400,000 Indigenous objects, including baskets, beadwork, ceramics and ceremonial regalia. These had been stored at the Southwest Museum’s Highland Park building. But that structure suffered from poor climate control and leaks, requiring the Autry to find a new place to harbor the collection.

Beaded pouches bearing designs of deer, horses and flowers are seen tidily arranged in a drawer.
Beaded pouches from the Great Plains at the Autry Museum’s new Resources Center in Burbank.
(From the Autry Museum of the American West)

Enter the Resources Center in Burbank, designed by L.A. firm Chu-Gooding Architects, with landscape design by the Native-owned studio Costello Kennedy Landscape Architecture. The center now accommodates the collections of both the Southwest Museum and the Autry (including Gene Autry’s fantastic cowboy bling), and offers a dedicated place for local Indigenous communities to access their treasures. (The center is open to the public by appointment.)

As the museum’s vice president of Native collections, Joe Horse Capture tells Times culture writer Deborah Vankin: “The idea of creating a facility where Native people can engage with works their ancestors created, and work collaboratively and have access — which they haven’t had for many, many years — I think is really, critically, important to the cultural heritage and also the Autry’s relationship with tribes.”

In a fascinating dispatch, Vankin goes deep on what it meant to relocate hundreds of thousands fragile artifacts from one part of Los Angeles to another. (It involved art handlers ascending and descending a 3-foot-wide spiral staircase bearing one object at a time.) The entire, wildly complex process was undertaken with guidance from a Native advisory committee organized by a cultural consultant from the Gabrielino-Tongva community.


The new center is expanding the idea of what the care of a collection might mean.

“The ceremonial space was meditative and beautiful — an airy respite from storage,” Vankin tells me of her visit. “And there were, on the day I visited, small shells and bits of what appeared to be dried plants or ash in the ceremonial altar, which had recently been used by visitors. So it felt very much alive, not just a pretty architectural appendage.”

You can read Vankin’s report (which features some photography by Brian van der Brug) right here. Learn more about the Autry’s Resources Center at this link.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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Karen Bass defeats Rick Caruso to become L.A.’s first woman mayor. Caruso, a developer known for producing village-style malls, outspent his opponent 11 to 1, but the South L.A.-born Bass, a representative for the 37th Congressional District, ultimately pulled ahead. As of Wednesday, she was leading Caruso by more than 6 points. The L.A. County registrar-recorder/county clerk’s office is expected to certify the result on Dec. 5. Los Angeles Times

A woman in a red suit and glasses is seen smiling before supporters holding placards.
Karen Bass with supporters on election night.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

State Sen. Sydney Kamlager will replace Bass in Congress. Prior to politics, she worked in nonprofits and the entertainment industry. KCRW

Hydee Feldstein Soto has declared victory in the race for L.A. city attorney. Her opponent, Faisal Gill, however, had not conceded as of Wednesday afternoon. The latest vote count showed Feldstein Soto with 56.9% and Gill with 43% of the vote. Los Angeles Times

Check out the L.A. backyards transformed into a mini-farm producing low-water veggies. Meet Mike Wood, the owner-farmer of Huarache Farms, an urban farm that occupies several backyards in Sierra Madre and Glendale that make the most of vertical farming techniques and recycled water. They grow a fine-looking sunflower sprout! Los Angeles Times

New bike lanes around Los Angeles. Joe Linton rounds up all the latest additions in downtown L.A. and gives an update on improvements coming to Wilmington. Streetsblog

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These days, waking up to current events can be, well, daunting. If you’re seeking a more balanced news diet, “The Times” podcast is for you. Gustavo Arellano, along with a diverse set of reporters from the award-winning L.A. Times newsroom, delivers the most interesting stories from the Los Angeles Times every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


Republicans secured control of the U.S. House of Representatives. The election of GOP Rep. Mike Garcia in northern Los Angeles County has put the House under Republican control. This means that House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) could become the next speaker of the House. Los Angeles Times

What does McCarthy stand for? ICYMI, an October report by The Times got into the mechanics of McCarthy, a politician who “has passed no landmark legislation” and “has soared through the ranks largely untested in the art of bipartisan deal-making.” Los Angeles Times

Illustration of Kevin McCarthy casting Donald Trump's shadow with the U.S. Capitol building in the background.
Bakersfield’s Kevin McCarthy is poised to become speaker of the House.
(Chloe Cushman / For The Times)

California will see a $25-billion budget deficit next year, reports the state Legislature’s top fiscal analyst. This represents a dramatic shift from last year, when the state budgeted for a $100-billion surplus. This doesn’t necessarily mean recession, says analyst Gabriel Petek, but it indicates that recession is possible. San Francisco Chronicle

Pay demands by striking UC workers could result in major cost increases. In a letter released Wednesday, UC Provost Michael T. Brown said the added expenses could “have overwhelming financial impacts.” UCLA doctoral candidate Rafael Jaime, president of the union representing the striking workers, says the provost’s costs seem “inflated.” Los Angeles Times


How did the L.A. County district attorney’s office end up launching a criminal probe sparked by far-right conspiracies? An investigation by James Queally and Sarah D. Wire looks at how George Gascón’s office ended up pursuing a legal case against the executive of a tech company that creates software to register poll workers, a small Michigan outfit that has been a target of election fraud conspiracy theories. The case was later quietly dropped, which, as Queally and Wire report, “created a vacuum easily filled by disinformation.” Los Angeles Times

An SUV slammed into 25 L.A. County sheriff’s recruits jogging through Whittier. “It looked like an airplane wreck,” said Sheriff Alex Villanueva at a news conference. “There [were] so many bodies scattered everywhere in different states of injury that it was pretty traumatic for all individuals involved.” Los Angeles Times

The head of Berkeley’s police union is on leave in the wake of a text messaging scandal. Sgt. Darren Kacalek is on leave after he was accused by a former police officer of establishing “illegal” arrest quotas and making derogatory comments about the unhoused. San Francisco Chronicle

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California air quality officials released a climate plan to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. “The so-called scoping plan released by the California Air Resources Board reflects Gov. Gavin Newsom’s accelerated goal of curtailing planet-warming emissions by 48% (compared to 1990 levels) this decade,” writes environmental reporter Tony Briscoe. Los Angeles Times

The Santa Ana winds, as is customary, are causing trouble around Southern California. Some of the strongest winds of the year continued to buffet L.A. and Ventura counties, toppling trucks and igniting a fire in Fontana. Los Angeles Times


Elon Musk wants a culture reset at Twitter. On Tuesday evening, he sent a memo asking staff to commit to a new “hardcore culture” or leave with three months’ severance. Employees have until 5 p.m Eastern on Thursday to decide. Los Angeles Times

What all the tech layoffs mean. “The departures are solidifying a feeling in Silicon Valley that the bull market of the past decade — which created massive amounts of wealth for tech investors, workers and the broader economy — is decidedly over,” writes Gerrit De Vynck. Washington Post

Hollowed-out office spaces could also mean hollowed-out property taxes. In San Francisco, that might mean $200 million in lost revenue for the city. San Francisco Chronicle


Elton John will hit Dodger Stadium as part of his farewell tour. Times music editor Craig Marks revisits his legendary 1975 concert at the stadium. “John and L.A. have always enjoyed a special relationship,” he writes, “starting with the now almost apocryphal shows at the Troubadour nightclub in August 1970.” Los Angeles Times

Didn’t get tickets? Don’t sweat it. The show will be streamed online. Los Angeles Times

Elton John put on a show at Dodger Stadium in 1975.
Elton John put on a show at Dodger Stadium in 1975.
(Terry O’Neill / Iconic Images)

The Watts Towers reopen after years of conservation work. This week, The Times’ culture team launched a new newsletter called L.A. Goes Out, led by writer Steven Vargas. It offers a weekly roundup of all the great things to do around town. In the debut issue (which landed Wednesday), Vargas reports on the reopening of the Watts Towers Arts Center — which is kicking off with the exhibition “I Wanted to Do Something Big.” Los Angeles Times

A guide to the best burritos in the Bay Area. Food scribes Cesar Hernandez and Soleil Ho put together a scrumptious list that features “the paradigm-shifting” burros at Tacos Mi Reynita in Oakland and the sumptuous breakfast options at El Taco Loco in the Mission. I am ready to have my paradigm shifted. San Francisco Chronicle


Los Angeles: 75, partly cloudy. San Diego: 71, partly cloudy. San Francisco: 60, partly cloudy. San Jose: 65, partly cloudy. Fresno: 66, partly cloudy. Sacramento: 65, partly cloudy.


Today’s California memory is from Bennett J. Mintz:

We arrived in California after driving from New Jersey in February 1948. The motel along the coast north of San Diego where we spent our first night had orange trees in a garden. Early the next morning, my father slipped out of his cabin and plucked two oranges, which he promptly ate. It was then and there that the family decision was made not to return to New Jersey.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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