In 2003, California’s governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said: “I came in here to fix what is broken in California.” Six 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 $300m 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.
• Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘…and pull in the crowds, says Broad'