Merry Norris, an arts and architecture advocate based in Los Angeles, passed away on March 16. As one of the city’s first Cultural Affairs Commissioners when she was appointed in 1984, the first Honorary Member of the American Institute of Architects Los Angeles (AIA/LA), and a board member and an honorary trustee at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) since 1987, Norris was widely known throughout the city for her open embrace of all things groundbreaking and on the cutting edge. Like fellow philanthropists Eli Broad and Robert H. Ahmanson, Norris helped shaped the cultural identity of the young city by drawing connections between a wide range of creative fields.
Hernán Díaz Alonso, the current Director of SCI-Arc, expressed in a press statement that “Merry Norris was in a league of her own,” and that “her generosity and passion for SCI-Arc and the arts was unparalleled. Over the years, her contributions have made her inseparable from what SCI-Arc is and will continue to be.” Faculty member and founder of Morphosis Thom Mayne said that Norris “approached everything with wonder and enthusiasm—she loved the world and the people in it,” and SCI-Arc Chairman of the Board of Trustees Kevin Ratner added that she was “a fixture of LA’s cultural fabric; a committed board member who connected the school to the greater arts community and whose strong opinion always mattered.”
Norris was behind the enhancement of many of the city’s public spaces through the inclusion of work from local artists, such as those of Shepard Fairey and David Wisemen throughout the West Hollywood Library, and a large mural by Kenny Scharf adorning the sides of a parking garage for the Pasadena Museum of California Art. But she is perhaps most well known for her instrumental role in the founding and building of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), one of the most city’s most important art institutions, as well as the James Corner Field Operations-designed Tongva Park in Santa Monica.
Her own home, perched above the Sunset Strip, was itself a veritable museum of contemporary art and design, according to an interview with Curbed, including furniture designed by Frank Gehry and Thom Mayne, as well as artwork by Ed Ruscha, Mark Bradford, and Jenny Holzer.