Given all the hoopla this year in Los Angeles over the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, and especially at the Autry with the exhibition that focuses on his time in this city, it was only a matter of time before staffers would consider offering tours in Spanish, the artist’s native language.
On Dec. 2, 42 students from Flintridge Preparatory School in La Cañada, most of them juniors and seniors, were treated to one of these tours.
“With the AP literature and also the language class, culture is a huge component,” said Kristina Espinosa, who teaches upper-level Spanish and Advanced Placement literature at Flintridge. “We think it’s really exciting if we can take them out of the classroom and out of the confines of the school and really experience that culture.”
The advanced Spanish students also get a chance to hone their listening comprehension, Espinosa said.
“It’s a great chance,” she said. “It gives them kind of a range of experiences, rather than just seeing it online or looking at a textbook. It’s a much more personal experience.”
Manuel Nuñez, chair of the world languages department at Flintridge, said the Autry tour was part of an entire day of activities for the students. In the morning, with help from the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), they had toured East Los Angeles to look at murals by artists who in the sixties and seventies, and on into today, took their inspiration from Siqueiros’ vision and technical breakthroughs.
“It was very important for them to see how Siqueiros very much influenced the muralists of East L.A.,” Nuñez said. “It gives them a pretty good perspective of the importance of Los Angeles and of the murals, and how important that is to the Mexican culture and how important it is also to the Latino culture. It brings a little more connection to them.”
Nuñez said the field trip was part of an initiative at the school called Greater L.A., which aims to expose the students to the wide variety of cultural influences that make up this city. So having the tour in Spanish was vital.
“Experiencing Siqueiros is having someone who speaks Spanish give us the insight,” he said. “The presentation is a little more personal because the artist is Spanish-speaking. I think presenting this in the language of the artist gives them a better flavor of it.”
Thursday’s visit apparently was the first ever by a group from Flintridge. Nuñez said he was pleased.
“I always thought it was mostly Western art and all that stuff, cowboys and Gene Autry,” he said. “But I like it. I’m coming back. I was astounded at how beautiful it is.”
Erik Greenberg, the Autry’s director of education, said the question of offering Spanish tours has come up before at the Autry, and more than once.
The Siqueiros exhibition was an opportunity to explore the possibility in more depth. The museum first reached out to the Chicano Studies department at Cal State University in Long Beach. One person showed interest and has continued working with the museum.
At about the same time, two of the Autry’s existing docents, Rosa Flores-Medrano and Maria Leinenweber, got wind of the effort and came forward, saying they could provide the Spanish tours. The museum now offers tours in Spanish by appointment.
“It’s a good start, but it’s a small start,” Greenberg said. He believes having five to seven docents on the staff that could provide tours in Spanish would be ideal to fill the likely demand. Greenberg says the idea is to have Spanish tours of all exhibitions at the Autry, not just those that deal with subjects that might be considered tailor-made to the Latino community.
Leinenweber, who herself has taught AP Spanish, said she hopes the Spanish-language tours become a regular part of the offerings at the Autry. Flores-Medrano agreed.
“It’s wonderful,” Leinenweber said. “It’s very necessary.”