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La Casa Cultural Latina Mural Conservation
by Alicia P. Rodriguez
Three years after moving out of our former home at 510 E. Chalmers Street the mural that graced the entire walls and ceiling of the conference room have been conserved in Chicago. Before housing Latina/Latino Studies, the building was the home of La Casa Cultural Latina. The mural, created in 1974 by students and led by student artist Oscar Martinez, was made in protest to the lack of support of Latina/o student by the University and to prevent the building from being demolished. From then on, the mural was a symbol of the presence and resiliency of Latina/o students on campus and was considered an alma mater of sorts by Latina/o students.
After going through a lengthy process to secure funds and receive bids from potential conservators, in June 2016 the art handling company Terry Dowd, Inc. carefully removed the mural and transported the panels to Parma Conservation in Chicago. Thereafter, the University demolished the building. All of the panels of the mural were restored and almost ready for display by the conservators at Parma. The conservation work was completed in Spring 2017.
The University secured more than $300,000 for the project from several units, including the Office of the Chancellor, the Office of the Provost, the College of LAS, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. The funds pay for the removal, conservation, and 3D-rendering of the mural panels. The conservation process is quite laborious and consists of careful removal of the plaster behind the painted surfaces and then adhesion of the panel to linen.
There are currently no funds to pay the costs of preparing the panels such that they can be hung and displayed. The hope is that more funds will be secured for this phase of the project. It would be a shame to keep this beautiful and important artwork in storage indefinitely. It is important that the University recognizes the historical value of the mural and find places around campus where the mural panels can be displayed to educate the public about the history of Latina/o students on campus. Until then, the mural can be seen at https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=T6ksYzEmfkT in a 3D and high resolution photograph created by 360 Chicago of the original room. You can find out the latest about the mural restoration here https://www.fs.illinois.edu/resources/newsroom/2017/05/30/update-on-the-la-casa-cultural-latina-murals.