LACMA finds itself in two funding worlds

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has good news and bad news.

The good news is that the Annenberg Foundation has given the museum $10 million to establish a special endowment fund to support exhibitions, art acquisitions and educational programs at the discretion of the museum’s director, Andrea L. Rich.

The bad news is that fund-raising for the museum’s massive building project has been stalled by the gloomy economy. Although the Annenberg gift goes toward efforts to raise $100 million -- on top of LACMA’s current $77-million endowment -- it does not further the cause of the new building, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and estimated to cost $200 million to $300 million.

That fund-raising campaign, still in its “quiet phase,” suffered a setback in last month’s general election when a $250-million bond measure for improvements at county museums failed to pass. The bond would have given $98 million to LACMA, provided that the museum raised $112.5 million on its own.


Rich acknowledged that the next stage of the project -- more detailed drawings by the architect -- may be postponed. “We are looking deeply at the feasibility of pressing forward on the building at this time because of the economic conditions,” she said. Fund-raising will continue, but the emphasis may shift temporarily to programs and endowment, she added.

Still, the Annenberg donation is an important part of the total package, Rich said. “Building the endowment has always been part of our campaign because it’s the future of this institution. I had an opportunity to direct this gift and this is what I chose.

“This is like gold,” she said. “It gives us new flexibility and allows us to act quickly to take advantage of opportunities we would otherwise miss.” No money from the new endowment has been allotted, but it might be used when the museum can’t find a sponsor for a special exhibition or a fund-raising effort for an art acquisition falls short of the purchase price, she said.

The new endowment was established at the behest of Wallis Annenberg, vice president of the 13-year-old Annenberg Foundation, which supports communication through education, the arts and community projects. The daughter of publisher and philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg, who died Oct. 1, she joined the museum’s board of trustees earlier this year.


In recognition of the gift, LACMA has named its top job the Wallis Annenberg directorship. Although naming positions for donors is relatively new in the art world, it is common practice at universities, said Rich, who hopes this is the beginning of a trend at LACMA.

“This sets a standard for the naming of positions that can be extremely helpful to us as we move ahead in a fund-raising campaign,” she said. “I would like to see all of our chief curatorships named with substantial endowments.”

The museum has received other gifts from the Annenbergs. In 1991 the foundation contributed $10 million to LACMA’s endowment and in 1999 it donated $100,000 to provide arts education training for Los Angeles elementary school teachers. Last year, Wallis Annenberg endowed a curatorial fellowship program with a $1-million gift.