LACMA reframes its future with growing Hollywood ties

Once a bastion of old money, LACMA is now recruiting young entertainment industry figures as board trustees

The guest list for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's 50th anniversary gala Saturday night might easily be mistaken for that of a Hollywood awards show.

Studio executives Robert Iger of Walt Disney Co., Michael Lynton of Sony Entertainment and Brad Grey of Paramount Pictures are on the list, along with entertainers Will Ferrell, Marisa Tomei and Dustin Hoffman.

It gets even glitzier for the museum's Art + Film Gala, an annual bash launched in 2011. Leonardo DiCaprio co-chairs the event, and last year's guests included Jamie Foxx, Amy Adams and, of course, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.

Once a bastion of old money, LACMA has become a darling of the entertainment industry. More than a third of its 53 trustees have ties to showbiz or media. The new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, once planned for Hollywood, is now set to be built on LACMA's Miracle Mile campus.

The Hollywood-LACMA connection was no accident. About a decade ago, the museum's leaders decided the region's signature industry should play a bigger part in the region's cultural life. The board began recruiting more young entertainment figures as trustees.

"There was an understanding — the message was there needed to be a change in the board," museum director Michael Govan recalled. "The board was in extreme need of refreshment."

For decades Hollywood has been criticized for not being particularly generous to local arts institutions, while at the same time the pillars of Los Angeles society often looked down at the entertainment industry as interlopers. Hollywood's embrace of the L.A. County Museum of Art hasn't hurt the industry's image.

"I think the entertainment industry gets a lot of publicity, and it doesn't hurt," said Lynton, chief executive of Sony Pictures Entertainment, who joined the LACMA board in 2007.

"But the business of the museum has remained serious — it hasn't been overtaken by glitz," he added.

Lynda Resnick, a trustee since 1992, said the museum has "totally morphed into a different place. Institutions are like people; they have life cycles. But unlike people, they can be reborn."

LACMA's rebirth is the result of a conscious decision made about a decade ago by longtime museum supporters, including Eli Broad and the late Nancy Daly, to rejuvenate a board that to some had become complacent.

Casey Wasserman, an entertainment executive and grandson of Hollywood mogul Lew Wasserman, was in his early 30s when he became a trustee in 2004. Bobby Kotick, who heads the video game giant Activision Blizzard, was in his early 40s when he joined the museum around the same time.

Two-thirds of all current LACMA trustees joined the museum in the last 10 years, increasing the board's size by nearly 20%. The museum said it has a cap of 60 trustees.

Many art museums around the country are expanding their boards partly in response to the most recent recession, according to David H. King, president and CEO of Alexander Haas, a fundraising consulting company.

"All museums had to look at what they were doing," he said. "Many found that they had tapped all the connections they had. Enlarging the board gives them access to new sources of funding."

Institutions undergoing large changes — LACMA is expected to break ground on its new building in three years — tend to grow their boards as a way of building local support, said Bruce Thibodeau, president of Arts Consulting Group in L.A.

"It can also be a generational thing. Sometimes the descendants [of traditional philanthropists] don't have the same interests, and new leaders step forward," he said.

With membership come six-figure responsibilities. LACMA trustees are each expected to contribute $100,000 per year, an amount that is more a floor than a ceiling. Trustees collectively give about $14 million to $15 million each year, not including campaign gifts, said LACMA officials.

That's still relatively cheap compared with New York, where board membership for top cultural organizations can come with a price tag that exceeds $1 million.

"The age of the city really does have a lot to do with what the culture asks of you," said Bryan Lourd, partner and managing director at Creative Artists Agency, and a LACMA trustee for four years. He also holds board positions at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington.

"That being said, I've never seen a more exciting moment for [L.A.]. It's a complete boomtown in that way, and it's recognized in D.C. and New York that that is happening here."

At LACMA, trustees are currently focused on financing and completing a major reconstruction that calls for razing buildings finished in 1965 and constructing a new $650-million building designed by Peter Zumthor. That project is scheduled for completion in 2023.

Separately, the Motion Picture Academy hopes to complete its $300-million museum in the former May Co. building on the LACMA campus in 2018.

LACMA trustees will be expected to play a big role in fundraising for the Zumthor project, for which the county has already committed $125 million.

"We're seeing a huge amount of support from the board," said Andrew Brandon-Gordon, board co-chair and a partner at Goldman Sachs, where his clients include media and telecommunications companies.

He said that the museum is currently in the quiet phase of fundraising and that a public phase is expected to launch later this year or in 2016. Brandon-Gordon co-chairs the LACMA board with Terry Semel, a former Warner Bros. and Yahoo executive.

LACMA's location in the Miracle Mile also makes it geographically correct for the entertainment industry, much of which is in that area and nearby Century City.

"I drive by the museum every day to work," noted Ryan Seacrest, the radio personality, TV producer and "American Idol" host, whose offices are just a short walk away. He became a trustee last year.

In many ways, Seacrest, 40, is emblematic of the LACMA board's new direction — high energy, plugged into Hollywood and younger than the museum itself.

At the same time, he takes the visual arts seriously, even if he admits that he's still a neophyte.

"I was thoughtful about my decision [to join the board] and the responsibilities involved," he said. "There are some amazingly accomplished people navigating that ship."

Trustees meet four or five times a year, though committees tend to convene more often. Many trustees participate in the collectors committee, which oversees art acquisitions for LACMA.

Trustee Steve Tisch, an Oscar-winning producer of "Forrest Gump" and co-owner of the New York Giants football team, has bought several movie-themed and video pieces for the museum, including Christian Marclay's 24-hour video "The Clock."

"I've carved out a little niche at LACMA for video pieces — it's a very exciting art form," said Tisch, who became a trustee in 2010.

"It's young and new, but it dovetails with what the museum is doing," he added. "It's video. It's L.A. It's Hollywood."

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