Michael Govan’s LACMA contract renewal revealed

Michael Govan will steer the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for at least six more years, under a contract renewal that quietly went into effect July 1.

The museum didn’t announce the renewal then, but it emerged Friday when LACMA posted its audited financial statements for 2009-10 on its website.

Govan has been LACMA’s director since April 1, 2006. Having completed his original contract, he collected a $1-million bonus agreed to when he was hired.

Govan, 47, was traveling Friday and not available for comment. “The board, the staff, everybody’s really thrilled,” said Melody Kanschat, who as LACMA’s president is its second-ranking officer. “Michael’s got a terrific vision, and it will take many years to fulfill that.”


Govan, who led New York’s Dia Art Foundation before coming to LACMA, said last year that he hoped to be at LACMA for the long haul, as long as the trustees supported his ambitions for the museum. On his watch, LACMA has planned and built one facility, the Resnick Exhibition Pavilion; opened another that was in progress when he arrived, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum; and purchased property along Wilshire Boulevard that could permit further growth.

“To really acomplish what L.A. and this museum needs, [trustees] really should be looking for a director who can stay decades,” Govan said at the time, adding that he was “starting to feel a sense of great loyalty to this city and a willingness to be here in the long term.”

LACMA didn’t release the financial terms of Govan’s new contract. Its most recent available federal tax return, for 2008-09, shows he received $1.27 million in total compensation and benefits.

The audit statement shows that Govan has at least one thorny item on his agenda: a $5.5-million tiff with Eli Broad over whether Broad’s 2004 pledge to cover all design and construction costs for the Broad Contemporary Art Museum had a $50-million limit or extended to the full $55-million total.


For the sake of “conservative accounting treatment” of the dispute, auditors wrote, the museum has written off the $5.5 million as a financial loss “until the resolution of this issue.”

Kanschat said LACMA detailed the dispute in its audit rather than simply labeling the writedown as a generic, unpaid pledge. The reason, she said, is that the $450-million expansion and endowment campaign that began in 2004 is continuing, and it’s important to be clear that the problem is with just one donor rather than many, and “to be clear that our campaign pledges are valid and enforceable.”

Broad has paid all his pledges for BCAM, totaling $60 million for construction and acquiring art, said his spokeswoman, Karen Denne. “We are disappointed that LACMA is making false claims, especially considering the Broads’ long-standing support of the museum,” which included a 2008 donation of $5 million to help fund the museum’s purchase of a major collection of Oceanic art.

Cooled relations between Broad and LACMA became apparent in 2008, when he said he wouldn’t be donating his art to the museum. Instead, he recently won government approval to build a museum in downtown Los Angeles to house his 2,000-work art trove.

LACMA’s financial statement reflects a partial comeback after two lean recession years. Kanschat said that the stalled capital campaign began to progress again, with $17 million in new pledges for a total of $321 million.

The museum’s endowment grew from $99.6 million to $106.8 million; budget and investment officer Mark Mitchell said the portfolio earned 12.6%, after losses totaling 30% during the two previous years.