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L.A. County supervisors place the welcome mat out for George Lucas' museum

The day after a presidential election that left the country sharply divided, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors gathered to vote on whether to officially support bringing George Lucas’ proposed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art to Los Angeles’ Exposition Park.

The symbolic vote, however, was unanimous: Yes.

After facing community opposition from San Francisco’s Presidio Trust and then Chicago’s Friends of the Parks, Lucas unveiled two new sets of museum designs by Chinese architect Ma Yansong in October. One is for Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, the other in Exposition Park. The twin plans put the cities in competition to win the project, which Lucas will fund to the tune of about $1 billion, including building costs, the art collection and a promised endowment of at least $400 million.

On Wednesday, leaders from the worlds of Hollywood, museums, educators and nonprofits crammed into the first two rows of a cavernous hearing room to show their support for the project. Among those on hand: DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, L.A. County Museum of Art CEO and Director Michael Govan, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures’ leader Kerry Brougher, as well as representatives from Exposition Park’s Natural History Museum, California Science Center and California African American Museum and nearby USC, Lucas’ alma mater. 

They stood for a group photo, then about a dozen of them spoke for about a minute each to the semi-circle of supervisors.

Norma Spencer, principal of Exposition Park’s Dr. Theodore T. Alexander, Jr. Science Center school, called her neighborhood’s cultural institutions “an extension of our classrooms.” The highly visual exhibits proposed for the Lucas museum, she said, “will help children that struggle with language have access to a form in which they’re able to express themselves.”

Charlene Dimas-Peinado, president of the Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic, also spoke about the museum’s educational value for children. “The power of narrative arts is especially compelling for children,” she said, “and can create amazing opportunities that include using one’s senses, memories, personal association, cultural awareness and creativity to inspire learning.”

Others spoke of the project’s cultural significance and compatibility with existing L.A. institutions.     

“It’s very important as a complement to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures,” Brougher said, adding that his museum will focus on film but the proposed Lucas Museum will encompass multiple media. “It’ll be able to address storytelling and narrative art way before the invention of film and including film,” he said. “So the two museums working together will create an amazing complement to a history of art that really hasn’t been addressed in any other museum across the nation.”

Taking his turn at the mike, Govan noted the show of support in the room.

“I think you’re seeing an interesting gathering that reflects the camaraderie and the diversity of Los Angeles and its cultural offerings,” he said. “We are certainly the most diverse and creative place on Earth and there’s a great power in this.”

Katzenberg didn’t speak to supervisors but he told The Times that he felt the museum would be “a game changer” for L.A. and was the the right place for the project. “Hollywood and the industry here has really been a home for George,” he said.  

The Lucas museum collection includes works by Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth and R. Crumb along with Hollywood memorabilia from films such as “Star Wars” and “The Ten Commandments.” Katzenberg said its value comes from this mix of popular and fine art.

“This notion that it’s just a collection of ‘Star Wars’ art is simply a misunderstanding,” he said. “It’s pretty spectacular, the diversity of it. It’s narrative art, fine art, this incredible high-quality mix of many different aspects.”

The motion of resolution penned by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose 2nd District includes Exposition Park, called the project a win for residents partly because it will bring culture, jobs and tourism to the area.

“Today is a very good day for the county of L.A.,” Ridley-Thomas told The Times. “We are sending a very clear message to San Francisco that Los Angeles has placed the welcome mat before the Lucas family and invited them with outstretched arms.”

Govan characterized the Lucas museum as “a J. Paul Getty-scale investment,” but with some important differences. “It’s not on a hill. It’s in Exposition Park and in a very diverse neighborhood,” he said. “It’s with a popular art form — and L.A. has the capacity to potentially hold both and celebrate both. That’s what’s so cool about it.”

Katzenberg summed up the morning effort this way:

“Our job right now is to make sure the city of Los Angeles, and the supervisors today, reach out and give [Lucas] a big bear hug. And let him know we want him, we love him, and we’ll do what we need to get him here.” 

deborah.vankin@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter: @debvankin

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