On Friday, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLA) reopened the permanent exhibition, Becoming Los Angeles, which explores the rich history of Los Angeles and the diverse groups of people that have made the city their home. When the groundbreaking exhibition opened in 2013, it was the only permanent museum exhibition to address the city’s development over five centuries, from a small pueblo to a booming metropolis. It aimed to weave Los Angeles’ natural and cultural developments into a single narrative, to show how people’s actions have a direct impact on their environment and vice versa.
The exhibition as been expanded to include a section on Indigenous Angelenos featuring interviews with their contemporary descendants. It also includes artworks inspired by Los Angeles that complement each historical section of the exhibition, fresh objects from NHMLA’s history and anthropology/archaeology collection and newly commissioned works by local artists. More of the exhibition’s main content will now be bilingual, in English and Spanish.
“We look back and around,” said Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, President of NHM at a press briefing earlier this week as she described the exhibit’s focus on how people are living their lives today in the context of the city’s historical past. Listening stations have been added where visitors can hear audio from museumgoers who came before them record their own voices as they answer the question, “What is Los Angeles to you?
Following her remarks, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas praised NHM’s focus urging Los Angelenos “don’t look back, look around, see what you can see.” he added, “I can’t wait to get into that booth and make history. This is not your typical exhibit, it’s not a march through time but it’s the story of people who built Los Angeles, people how have been underrepresented. A new narrative is emerging. This exhibit allows an opportunity for all if us to be heard, it’s collective story telling.
Dr. William Estrada and his colleague NHMLA Vice President of Exhibitions Gretchen Baker worked on the revamped exhibit with staff exhibit designer Sarah Crawford research Kim Walters over the past several months guided by the museum’s mission to be a museum “of and for Los Angeles” said Estrada.
“Having worked on this exhibition when it originally opened in 2013, I’m thrilled with the opportunity to revisit it and add important artifacts from the Museum’s history collections,” said NHMLA History Department Chair Dr. William Estrada. “NHMLA has been collecting materials throughout its more than 100-year history and Becoming Los Angeles presents us with an opportunity to showcase a great expanse of this collection, from family heirlooms, photographs, and movie-making equipment, to accessioning the necklaces and altar—all of which tell the story and transformation of Los Angeles. In this new version, we’ve added new and personal ways for Angelenos to see themselves in that story.”
The exhibit includes a spectacular ofrenda (offering) titled Altar to el Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles (the Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels) composed of 379 artifacts to celebrate Los Angeles created by Ofelia Esparza, artist and master altar-maker, and her daughter, artist Rosanna Esparza Ahrens. Since creating her first altar at L.A.’s Self Help Graphics & Art in 1988, Ofelia has established herself as an important figure in local exhibitions relating to Día de los Muertos. To create the altar, Ofelia and Rosanna reached out to various communities and artists throughout the city and county to weave their own designs into the altar, so that it is not just for an individual, but is representative of the whole of Los Angeles.
Parallel to the exhibition, a new gallery space will feature rotating exhibitions on Los Angeles topics, and while Becoming Los Angeles provides a broad historical overview, this rotating gallery will offer an in-depth look at particular moments that have shaped the city. Currently on view is artist Barbara Carrasco’s mural, L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective, in the exhibition, Sin Censura: A Mural Remembers L.A.
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90007 www.nhm.org
Groups of 10 or more people receive discounted rates on Museum admission. Group tickets available now by calling 213.763.3218 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations and more information.
Tickets to the exhibition are free for NHMLA members. To become a member, visit nhm.org/membership.
About the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
The Natural History Family of Museums includes NHMLA, the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum (Hancock Park/Mid-Wilshire), and the William S. Hart Museum (Newhall, California). The Family of Museums serves more than 1.2 million visitors annually, and it is a national leader in research, exhibitions, and education. NHMLA was the first dedicated museum building in Los Angeles, opening its doors in 1913, and has since amassed one of the world’s most extensive and valuable collections of natural and cultural history—more than 35 million objects. NHMLA is the only natural history museum in the world today that incorporates on- and offsite nature exploration, local wildlife inventories, a slate of community science programs, and active research into a museum paradigm that once focused on the past, but increasingly addresses the present and the future.