UND welcomes Cheech Marin for Chicano art lecture

Famed comedian — one half of madcap duo Cheech and Chong — has nation’s largest private art collection devoted to Mexican-American heritage

Cheech Marin

Farmed comic actor Cheech Marin will present a lecture at 5 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 9, at UND, about his expansive collection of Chicano art and his advocacy for minority artists, at the Campbell Recital Hall within the Hughes Fine Arts Center on campus. Image courtesy of Patrick McMullan.

While most know Cheech Marin for his career as an entertainer and pop culture icon — one half of the comedic duo of Cheech and Chong with longtime partner, Tommy Chong — he’s also quite the collector and advocate for the arts.

That passion will be on full display at 5 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 9, at UND, when Marin shows off his expansive collection of  Chicano art and his advocacy for minority artists at the Campbell Recital Hall within the Hughes Fine Arts Center on campus.

Over the past 30 years, Marin has amassed the largest private collection of Chicano art in the United States. The term “Chicano” refers to people of Mexican-American heritage.

His visit to the University is made possible by funding from the Colonel Eugene E. Myers Foundations.

Something different

The idea came more than two years ago from Associate Professor of Ceramics Wesley Smith and his wife, Associate Professor of Photography Suzanne Gonsalez-Smith, both faculty members of the UND Department of Art & Design in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Smith is coordinating Marin’s visit for his department, as well as visits from others as part of its Visiting Artists Series.

“We joke about the region being extremely Scandinavian,” Smith said, having lived extensively in Texas and Tennessee. “There aren’t a lot of museums or exhibition opportunities, so we wanted to jury a national exhibition of Hispanic and Latino art — to bring something different to campus.”

They decided to “go big or go home” in contacting Marin, who actually expressed interest in an exhibition. Unfortunately, though perhaps unsurprisingly, Marin is a busy man.

“We couldn’t get the timing to work,” Smith recalled. “Then we thought the idea died off and got cold. But two years later, it turned out Cheech remembered and reached out through his art handler. It just so happened he was still willing to come to the University.”

Marin will be joined by his wife Natasha in Grand Forks. Together they’ll visit the Hughes Fine Arts Center and meet with graduate and advanced art students.

Natasha, a classical pianist, plans to meet with the music department while Cheech observes the work of students and speaks with them of his endeavors in the art world. His efforts led to the opening of the only museum in the United States dedicated to Chicano art.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not exhibited in other places,” Smith explained. “But when you see those exhibits, you typically see in the fine print that it’s from the collection of Cheech Marin on loan.”

Changing perspectives

Donovan Widmer, chair of the UND Department Chair of Art & Design, says the Nov. 9 lecture will be about collecting artistic works, specifically about Marin’s personal art collection.

“Cheech Marin offers a totally different perspective,” Widmer told UND Today. “Usually we have visual artists coming in, and we want students to hear an alternative narrative in the art world. I’m curious to hear his story of ‘how and why.’”

Smith believes the visit and lecture is great for the University as educational outreach for students.

“Our students will see an art form that is possibly traditionally undervalued,” he said. “So it’ll make something visible to them that a lot of them probably haven’t looked into. But it’s not just the students: the faculty, staff and the Grand Forks community all have this opportunity. This is for everyone.”

Copies of Marin’s 2013 book, Chicanitas: Small Paintings from the Cheech Marin Collection, will go out to attendees on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong

Cheech Marin (left circa 1980s) and Tommy Chong formed a comedy duo that was hugely popular in the 1970s and 1980s, and are credited with a string of movies and comedy albums during those years.

Visiting Artists Series

The Colonel Eugene E. Myers Foundations is an endowment available only to four universities: Columbia, Northwestern, West Virginia and UND. As Smith would put it, “we’re not in bad company.”

Widmer described the series as a way for students to receive a variety of feedback from artists in the field.

“The visiting artists do lectures, individually critique student work and provide a separate voice for students,” he said.

Faculty of the department submit a name of an artist they’d like to bring in. The submission goes through a process for approval, and the result is several visits throughout the year to UND campus.

“I try to bring in a person every semester for my students. Sometimes it’s more than one person,” Smith said, “because it exposes students to people making a living doing what they are going to college for. They get to learn the truths of the world for living, working artists.”