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CCSF’s Diego Rivera mural will find temporary home in SFMOMA

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Diego Rivera’s “Pan-American Unity” mural, painted in 1940, will be permanently moved to CCSF’s planned Performing Arts Education Center after its SFMOMA run ends. (James Chan/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The largest and final mural created stateside by 20th century Mexican artist Diego Rivera will temporarily swap out its home at City College of San Francisco for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

The mural is set to become a centerpiece in SFMOMA’s Diego Rivera exhibition, scheduled for 2020.

On Thursday, CCSF’s Board of Trustees is expected to vote on a memorandum of understanding with SFMOMA regarding the loaning of the mural. The contract will solidify a partnership with the museum around the mural that dates back 80 years.

The nearly 1,800-square-foot “Pan-American Unity mural,” painted by Rivera in 1940 specially for display at CCSF, has decorated the lobby of the Diego Rivera Theater at the community college’s Ocean Avenue campus for more than a half century. Before that, it was kept in storage at the college for some two decades, until 1961.

According to the MOU, it was SFMOMA’s first director, Grace Morley, who “carried to Mexico in March 1940 architect Timothy Pfluger’s invitation to participate in the Art in Action program at the Golden Gate International Exposition.” The mural was a result of that invitation.

The mural will be moved to SFMOMA’s “most public gallery,” and will be “visible to The City day and night,” free of charge.

The move will raise awareness and publicity for “one of [The City’s] treasures,” CCSF Trustee Alex Randolph said. “We have been honored to have it at CCSF … I think only experts and people who seek it out actually know that it’s there.”

In March, CCSF’s Board of Trustees voted to move the mural to a new Performing Arts and Education Center (PAEC), planned for construction at the college’s main campus. But a significant chunk of funding for the project’s construction — some $70 million, according to CCSF Chancellor Mark Rocha — is still outstanding.

The mural’s move to SFMOMA and return to the college will be sponsored by the museum, and could help CCSF save in moving costs, should the mural’s return and the PAEC’s completion sync up.

“It’s fairly expensive to move a mural even if it’s just across the street,” Randolph said. “[SFMOMA] will take care of the mural, they will move it, display it and maintain it. The eventual goal is that hopefully by the time the exhibit is done, that we will be able to move it into the PAEC.”

A timeline for the construction of the PAEC has not been set.

“We expect it to remain [at SFMOMA] for some period of time after the exhibition, but the length of that period of time not determined yet,” CCSF spokesperson Jeff Hamilton said.

It’s unclear when the mural will move to the museum. Thursday’s MOU vote will authorize Rocha to proceed with negotiating a loan agreement with SFMOMA, Hamilton said.

The loan agreement could take anywhere between three to six months, and will cover the mural’s “conservation, moving costs and the educational partnership,” he said.

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