Museums USA

…And pull in the crowds, says Broad

California museums struggle through a recession that hasn’t hit bottom as the state nears its financial breaking point

LOS ANGELES. In 2003, California’s governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said: “I came in here to fix what is broken in California.” Just months from the end of his tenure, Los Angeles is at financial breaking point, and museums are weathering a recession that hasn’t hit bottom. California has a 12.4% unemployment rate and a $20bn deficit. The actor, who played Conan the Barbarian, called the budget-trimming process, “using an axe”.

Hugh Davies, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, which cut 20% of its staff in 2009, said: “This is far and away the worst recession of my lifetime.” The cash-starved Fresno Art Museum cut its curatorial staff and tried unsuccessfully to merge with the California State University, Fresno. The university, facing cuts itself, said it lacked funds to support the museum.

The Fresno Metropolitan Museum of Art and Science closed and put its collection on the auction block.

Los Angeles’s godfather to counter Schwarzenegger’s Conan is Eli Broad, whose $30m rescued the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in 2008. After funding the $56m Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma), Broad plans a museum for his collection in downtown Los Angeles or Santa Monica.

With Broad’s cash come guidelines for survival. Visiting MoCA became an “elitist activity”, he told us. “The exhibition programme is going to have to be more populist than esoteric shows that simply advance scholarship.”

Broad also has a special relationship with Lacma. He had obtained an additional $2m in funding for three years from Los Angeles County to help operate the Broad Contemporary Art Museum and the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion, which opens in October. “I convinced [the county] that they are going to serve more people, which hasn’t happened yet, but hopefully will,” said Broad. A trustee of New York’s MoMA, Broad admires the way it is daily “filled to the gills”, and approved of the “type of show like Tim Burton”, which will open at Lacma next May.

This article has been updated to correct the cost of building Bcam, which we incorrectly reported as $300m

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23 Aug 10
14:54 CET


Broad clearly doesn't think very much of the public if he thinks the only reason people visit museums is to be entertained. As a museum professional I know that there are at least some people - and not just those with acronyms after their names - left who go to museums to be taken out of their immediate experience, confronted with something new or difficult to understand, or have their world shown to them from a different perspective. I would like to know what exhibitions he regards as elitist and why.

19 Aug 10
20:59 CET


Eli Broad is one of the worst things ever to happen to LA. The intellectual basis for visual art was pretty low here to begin with and now he is dragging it lower. Fine art is not the same as cheap tract housing, which is his standard for quality control. The reason LACMA is empty is that there is very little there worth looking at. And lamppost photo-ops are not going to fool anyone who has actually studied fine art.

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