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LACMA sees the big picture as Academy Museum moves in next door

LACMA executives are looking at the big picture when it comes to the Academy Museum moving in next door

In 2012, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that it had finally found a home for its long-discussed Academy Museum, just steps from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, LACMA Director Michael Govan began to hear from concerned colleagues.

"Many people said to me, 'You're crazy to invite a movie museum next door to LACMA, given that the movies are the thing in Los Angeles,'" Govan said. "'Don't you think that all the donors are going to fund the movie museum and that you've just ruined your future?'"

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Instead, Govan believes, when LACMA's new neighbor opens in 2017, both institutions will benefit from their proximity and from the eventual creation of an arts hub beside a subway stop scheduled to open in 2026.

"What together we're doing is creating this anchor for Los Angeles," Govan said. "That is critical mass. The largest film museum in the world and the largest art museum in the western U.S. We're bending toward each other programmatically. The idea is that, in the middle of Los Angeles, the big cultural offering is art and film. No one else has that."

Designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and expected to begin construction this summer, the Academy Museum will be located in the former May Co. department store building at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. Piano's design includes the addition of a 1,000-seat, dome-shaped theater, a structure the architect calls "the spaceship," to the back of the 1939 Streamline Moderne landmark. The museum will contain more than 290,000 square feet of galleries, exhibition spaces and movie theaters.

Academy Museum Director Kerry Brougher, who comes to the job with backgrounds in art and film, has said he intends to program for an audience of both film scholars and casual movie fans.

Though Brougher has not publicly discussed specific shows he plans to mount, his previous work gives some indication of his interests. As interim director at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, director at the Modern Art Oxford Museum in Britain and curator at L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art from its opening in 1983 to 1997, Brougher organized exhibitions on directors Alfred Hitchcock and Steve McQueen and organized shows on experimental work by filmmakers like Stan Brakhage and Michael Snow.

LACMA and the Academy Museum will be separate institutions, but they'll be linked by more than location — the academy is renting the May Co. building and adjacent land from LACMA for $36 million on a 55-year lease.

Procuring that space was the culmination of internal discussions at the academy about the need for a film museum dating back as far as 1929, according to the movie industry group's CEO, Dawn Hudson.

"This museum was a long-held dream for the academy," Hudson said. "It wasn't until this building that the opportunity presented itself. It represents a lot to us, on a campus where there are already a million visitors coming to LACMA." (A previous plan to build the museum in Hollywood fell apart when the stock market crashed in 2008.)

LACMA already has film as part of its own programming, which Govan said will continue when the academy moves in next door. In partnership with the nonprofit arts organization Film Independent, the museum hosts film screenings and stages live readings of popular film scripts with name actors.

The academy has co-sponsored recent film-themed exhibitions at LACMA, including one on director Stanley Kubrick and another on German Expressionist cinema, which combined objects from LACMA's Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies with those from the academy's Margaret Herrick Library.

"We have no intention of not programming film here," Govan said regarding whether LACMA would steer clear of the Academy Museum's territory. "We see film as a growing commitment at LACMA. You've seen it in our exhibition program. ... There's room. Hopefully the academy will continue working with us on exhibition programs, and we'll have the opportunity to do an occasional event in their theater."

Hudson said the academy, which is engaged in the city's public approval process, has raised more than $225 million of the $300 million it needs to build the museum. Large gifts have come from David Geffen, whose name will be on the 1,000-seat theater, the Chinese business conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group, Dolby Laboratories, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Although the academy has long received the bulk of its funding from its annual awards telecast, fundraising for the museum represents relatively new territory.

In yet another sign of the way the institutions are intertwined, Walt Disney Co. Chairman Bob Iger is chairing the Academy Museum's funding campaign, while his wife, journalist Willow Bay, sits on LACMA's board.

"I don't think of fundraising for the arts as a zero sum game," Hudson said. "When you develop a culture of philanthropy, it only encourages more philanthropy. More giving leads to more giving. Generous donors lead to generous donors. There's been a lot of support of sciences and medicine in Los Angeles, but seeing our own art form as an art and a history that needs to be supported is new for our industry."

Twitter: @ThatRebecca

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