On a recent Friday evening, L.A. Live was thick with action.
Music blared from a DJ booth as guests filed into the Microsoft Theater for an ESPN event. A casual basketball game was in full swing in the courtyard and jersey-clad Lakers fans descended upon the downtown complex.
Calmer was the Grammy Museum, L.A. Live’s headquarters for the history of pop music.
Behind the scenes, however, executives have been working to transform the museum from a palace of interactive exhibits, artifacts and intimate concerts into a leading educational institution.
The Museum aims to expand its programming in a merger with the Recording Academy’s Grammy Foundation, bringing it closer to one of the charitable arms affiliated with the institution responsible for the yearly Grammy Awards.
The combined entity will be re-branded the Grammy Museum Foundation.
“When you look at what the mission of the Grammy Foundation was in its inception and the missions of the [museum] … there are a lot of goals and aspirations that are in alignment,” the Recording Academy’s president, Neil Portnow, said ahead of Monday’s announcement. Chief among them: Both institutions pair students with music professionals, and the Grammy Foundation funds museum-like preservation efforts.
When the Grammy Museum launched in 2008, it did so with a 10-year financial commitment from AEG. A museum spokeswoman says AEG will continue to be “a significant resource for the ongoing financial stability of the museum” under the new structure.
“We’ve put ourselves in a position where we’re trying to create as much money as possible to do even more exhibits and expand its footprint outside of Los Angeles,” said Todd Goldstein, AEG’s chief revenue officer.
When the $34-million institution opened to the public, it faced an uphill battle; tax documents show it has continued to struggle to operate without a deficit.
The museum opened before many properties that now thrive in the complex, when foot traffic was scarce and the Great Recession resulted in cuts during its first year.
The newly expanded Grammy Museum Foundation was largely spearheaded by the museum’s excecutive director Bob Santelli, who will now assume the title of founding executive director and focus on domestic and international expansions. Scott Goldman, previously vice president of the Grammy Foundation and the Recording Academy’s MusiCares Foundation, will serve as executive director of the Grammy Museum.
Executives credit successes beyond L.A. — being selected by the White House to co-produce concerts and working with then-First Lady Michelle Obama on music education programs, for example — with catapulting the museum’s profile.
The museum, which is heavy on interactive exhibits, attracts about 135,000 visitors a year.
Of course, Santelli would welcome more visitors. “But,” he said, “the museum is designed for a lot of one-on-one experiences … so that requires it to be a successful, smaller visitation than some of the big museums.”
“It’s not intended to be the cash cow,” Portnow offered. “It is about creating a cultural institution.”
Aligning with the Grammy Foundation — which oversees the Recording Academy’s education and preservation efforts — will allow the museum to focus on expanding its curriculum-based initiatives.
“The combined efforts of both will achieve a level of scale, prominence and impact where the sum is greater than the parts,” said Portnow.
At a time when federal funding for the arts is imperiled, Grammy executives see doubling down on education as vital.
In the last year, the Grammy Foundation provided $300,000 in grants to facilitate research, archiving and preservation projects. In 2016 alone, the museum and foundation have collectively served nearly 100,000 students.
“It’s time to move away from the things that have felt good and have been traditional but really aren’t moving the needle,” said Portnow, who hopes to see “a more vibrant, more meaningful approach to music education.
“It’s important, especially when all of this is so much under fire — and in certain cases under attack on a governmental level.”
For more music news follow me on Twitter:@GerrickKennedy