You may know him as a legendary actor, comedian and half of the Cheech & Chong counterculture comedy duo, but Cheech Marin ’s legacy also encompasses his fierce advocacy of Chicano culture through art.
Marin – one of the world’s foremost Chicano art collectors – opened the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture of the Riverside Art Museum in 2022. The public-private partnership in Riverside, Ca. is lovingly known as “The Cheech.”
Marin’s love of art goes back to childhood. During a South by Southwest featured session, Marin shared his first memories of exploring art during a class project as a 10-year-old boy. He’s been hooked ever since.
Later as a touring comedian, Marin visited cities like Austin, San Antonio and Corpus Christi and began amassing a collection that’s now considered among the top private Chicano art collections.
“I started seeing all these Chicano artists,” Marin said. They were transforming the art that they grew up with and creating an entirely new art form, he said. “But why aren’t they getting gallery shows? This is really great art,” he thought at the time.
He quickly became one of the few art collectors acquiring Chicano art on a large scale. Marin’s notable collection, which includes paintings, drawings, prints, mixed-media, sculptures and photography, has been featured in exhibits across the country in more than 50 museums.
Marin acknowledged that the journey to amplifying Chicano art through exhibitions wasn’t easy. Securing sponsorships, pitching to corporations for funding, navigating politics around the term Chicano in the museum world all came with a learning curve.
His secret weapons? Knowledge about Chicano art, the money to collect it, and the celebrity power to get into the right rooms.
Marin continues to break barriers to ensure that Chicano art and culture lives on. He’s teaming up with Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez to create a film department within the museum.
His big dreams don’t stop there. We may be seeing a lowrider museum in the future, Marin said.
And if anyone has a problem with that, well Marin believes the essential quality of Chicano art is “y qué?” So what?
Here’s some lessons from this cultural icon’s journey:
For Marin, the term Chicano is a “voluntary category.” “There’s no box on the census, he said. You can have voluntary rules.”
Whether someone calls themselves Latinx, Latino, Chicano or Chicanx doesn’t bother him. “It’s all a description of culture,” he said.
There’s something deeper that comes with being Chicano. “It’s a can-do spirit –nothing can stop you.”
Believe it or not, Marin has been meditating twice a day since he was 19. One of his guiding mantras – positivity.
Marin encourages artists with practical advice. Keep painting, drawing, or throwing clay. He encourages artists to talk about their art, even if it’s just when someone comes over to their house.
Go to museums. Keep pushing forward.