The suspense has been mounting for months: Who will helm filmmaker George Lucas’ $1-billion art museum under construction in Los Angeles?
On Wednesday the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art announced Sandra Jackson-Dumont as its new director and chief executive officer. She comes to L.A. from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where since 2014 she has headed education and public programs.
Realizing the Lucas Museum as an “innovative place of relevance and inspiration” is top of mind, Jackson-Dumont said in an interview.
“Museums often times feel at arms length from the public, and so much of the work that I’ve done either as a curator or as a programmer or as an administrator has been about, how do we make museums relevant and engaging and mean something to people’s everyday lives?” she said. “Those can be inspiring connections — sometimes they’re comfortable, sometimes they’re uncomfortable — and I think that the objects that are in this amazing collection speak to opportunities to connect to visual storytelling in ways that make people really have discussions. So I’m excited about that.”
Lucas Museum co-founder and Ariel Investments Co-Chief Executive and President Mellody Hobson said in an interview that Jackson-Dumont’s background was especially fitting with the museum’s civic-minded and educational mission.
“We’re building a school for schools, I’ve said that many, many times,” Hobson said. “The museum is located within a hotbed of schools, literally 500 schools within a five-mile radius. That’s breathtaking. Not to mention the university [USC] there. So we have this constant pipeline of attendees and the ability to educate them — that’s always been front and center as a mission. So the idea that we could get someone who has distinguished herself from the perspective of education at one of the best museums in the world, the Met, we just thought: This is a great foundation on which to build.”
Of Jackson-Dumont, she added: “She has a vision and a point of view. She just stood out.”
For an institution that’s not yet open, the Lucas Museum has had its share of drama. For more than a decade, Lucas considered sites in San Francisco and Chicago for his museum, which will house his personal collection of fine and popular art, but he wrestled with community opposition. In 2016 he sought proposals from San Francisco and Los Angeles, pitting the cities against each other in a competition not only for the museum itself, but for the tourism it will draw and the jobs it promised to create.
Lucas finally designated L.A. the winner in January 2017, at which point art historian Don Bacigalupi — formerly president and executive director of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. — was the museum’s founding president.
The Lucas Museum broke ground in March 2018 on a bustling site in Exposition Park that will include 11 acres of green space. The futuristic building, designed by architect Ma Yansong, will contain two restaurants and two theaters — a total of 300,000 square feet. The museum has been rapidly staffing up and now has two full-time curators, Erin M. Curtis and Ryan Linkof, and a curatorial assistant, Michelle Prestholt, with additional curators to come, it said. The 100,000-object collection includes paintings, sculpture and photography as well as more popular forms of art such as movies, illustration and comic art. It will also showcase “Star Wars” ephemera, such as the original Darth Vader mask.
“Art that tells a story,” the museum has said.
In February Bacigalupi stepped down. The museum did not say why, just that he was transitioning into the role of “special advisor,” focusing on acquisitions, and board member John W. McCarter Jr. took over as interim president. Bacigalupi is no longer affiliated with the museum.
The international search for a new director, led by the executive search firm Koya together with Lucas and Hobson, lasted eight months.
Prior to her time at the Met, Jackson-Dumont spent eight years at the Seattle Art Museum as deputy director for education and public programs and as an adjunct curator in modern and contemporary art. She has worked at the Studio Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Jackson-Dumont takes her post in January. The museum’s target for completing construction is late 2021.