How American Idol's Ryan Seacrest and host of Hollywood stars help Los Angeles art

With Dustin Hoffman, Leonard DiCaprio, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and Jamie Foxx among its supporters, a Los Angeles museum that played the celebrity card has turned its fortunes around

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 May, 2015, 10:51pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 May, 2015, 10:51pm


The guest list for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's 50th anniversary gala might easily be mistaken for that of a Hollywood awards ceremony. Studio executives Robert Iger of Walt Disney, Michael Lynton of Sony Entertainment and Brad Grey of Paramount Pictures are on the list, as are entertainers Dustin Hoffman, Marisa Tomei and Will Ferrell.

It gets even glitzier for the museum's Art + Film Gala, an annual bash launched in 2011. Leonardo DiCaprio co-chairs the event, and last year's guests included Jamie Foxx, Amy Adams and, of course, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.

Once a bastion of old money, LACMA has become a darling of the entertainment industry. More than a third of its 53 trustees have ties to show business or media. The new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, once planned for Hollywood, is now set to be built on LACMA's Miracle Mile campus.

The Hollywood-LACMA connection was no accident. About a decade ago, the museum's leaders decided the region's signature industry should play a bigger part in the region's cultural life. The board began recruiting more young entertainment figures as trustees.

"There was an understanding - the message was there needed to be a change in the board," museum director Michael Govan recalls. "The board was in extreme need of refreshment."

For decades Hollywood has been criticised for not being particularly generous to local arts institutions, while at the same time the pillars of Los Angeles society often looked down at the entertainment industry as interlopers. Hollywood's embrace of the art museum hasn't hurt the industry's image.

"I think the entertainment industry gets a lot of publicity, and it doesn't hurt," says Lynton, chief executive of Sony Pictures Entertainment, who joined the LACMA board in 2007. "But the business of the museum has remained serious - it hasn't been overtaken by glitz."

Lynda Resnick, a trustee since 1992, says the museum has "totally morphed into a different place. Institutions are like people; they have life cycles. But unlike people, they can be reborn."

LACMA's rebirth is the result of a decision made about a decade ago by its long-time supporters, including Eli Broad and the late Nancy Daly, to rejuvenate a board that to some had become complacent.

Casey Wasserman, an entertainment executive and grandson of Hollywood mogul Lew Wasserman, was in his early 30s when he became a trustee in 2004. Bobby Kotick, who heads the video game giant Activision Blizzard, was in his early 40s when he joined the museum around the same time.

Two-thirds of the current LACMA trustees joined the museum in the past 10 years, increasing the board's size by nearly 20 per cent. The museum says that it has a cap of 60 trustees.

I've never seen a more exciting moment for LA. It's a complete boomtown in that way
Bryan Lourd

Many art museums in the US are expanding their boards partly in response to the most recent recession, according to David King, president and CEO of Alexander Haas, a fundraising consulting company. "All museums had to look at what they were doing," he says. "Many found that they had tapped all the connections they had. Enlarging the board gives them access to new sources of funding."

Institutions undergoing large changes - LACMA is expected to break ground on its new building in three years - tend to grow their boards as a way of building local support, says Bruce Thibodeau, president of Arts Consulting Group. "It can also be a generational thing. Sometimes the descendants [of traditional philanthropists] don't have the same interests, and new leaders step forward."

With membership come six-figure responsibilities. LACMA's trustees are each expected to contribute US$100,000 per year - an amount that's more a floor than a ceiling. Trustees collectively give US$14 million to US$15 million each year, not including campaign gifts, according to LACMA officials.

That's still relatively cheap compared with New York, where board membership for top cultural organisations can come with a price tag that exceeds US$1 million.

"The age of the city really does have a lot to do with what the culture asks of you," says Bryan Lourd, partner and managing director at Creative Artists Agency, and a LACMA trustee for four years. He also holds board positions at the Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts in New York and the Kennedy Centre in Washington.

"I've never seen a more exciting moment for LA. It's a complete boomtown in that way, and it's recognised in DC and New York that that is happening here," Lourd says.

At LACMA, the trustees are now focusing on financing and completing a major reconstruction that calls for razing buildings finished in 1965 and constructing a new US$650-million building designed by Peter Zumthor. That project is scheduled for completion in 2023.

Separately, the Motion Picture Academy hopes to complete its US$300 million museum in the former May Company building on the LACMA campus in 2018.

The trustees are expected to play a big role in fundraising for the Zumthor project, for which the county has already committed US$125 million. "We're seeing a huge amount of support from the board," says Andrew Brandon-Gordon, board co-chair and a partner at Goldman Sachs, where his clients include media and telecommunications companies.

He says the museum is in the quiet phase of fundraising and that a public phase is expected to launch later this year or in 2016. Brandon-Gordon co-chairs the LACMA board with Terry Semel, a former Warner Bros and Yahoo executive.

LACMA's location on the Miracle Mile also makes it geographically correct for the entertainment industry, much of which is in that area and nearby Century City.

"I drive by the museum every day to work," says Ryan Seacrest, the radio personality, TV producer and American Idol host, whose offices are just a short walk away. He became a trustee last year.

In many ways, Seacrest, 40, is emblematic of the LACMA board's new direction - high energy, plugged into Hollywood and younger than the museum itself.

Seacrest takes the visual arts seriously, even if he admits that he's a neophyte. "I was thoughtful about my decision [to join the board] and the responsibilities involved," he says. "There are some amazingly accomplished people navigating that ship."

Trustees meet four or five times a year, although committees tend to convene more often. Many trustees participate in the collectors' committee, which oversees art acquisitions for the museum.

Trustee Steve Tisch, an Oscar-winning producer of Forrest Gump and co-owner of the New York Giants football team, has bought several movie-themed and video pieces for the museum, including Christian Marclay's 24-hour video The Clock.

"I've carved out a little niche at LACMA for video pieces - it's a very exciting art form," says Tisch, who became a trustee in 2010.

"It's young and new, but it dovetails with what the museum is doing. It's video. It's LA. It's Hollywood."

Tribune News Service