As the Los Angeles County Supervisors rushed to approve LACMA’s hot-off-the-presses EIR for Peter Zumthor’s new museum building last April, ignoring the 83% of public emails begging them to vote no, they made frequent mention of museum director Michael Govan’s claim that LACMA intended to open satellite facilities in far-flung corners of the County.
Bringing art to under served communities is a terrific thing, and we’d like to applaud LACMA’s commitment to building diverse audiences, especially young ones.
But when we recently went out to look at the most widely reported of the proposed LACMA satellite sites, the former transit garage Building 71 on the edge of South Los Angeles Wetlands Park, we saw no signs of any LACMA presence.
Almost two years after the deal was announced, we found the barn-like 84,000 square foot 1911 concrete structure sealed up tight, with Playboys gang tags on the entry bays and metal cages clamped to the windows.
When LACMA proudly announced its 35-year no-rent lease of the historic tilt-slab structure in January 2018, it was with the promise to retrofit and activate Building 71 as an art center to serve the 9500 children who attend school in the vicinity.
But we learned from our conversations with museum administrators that LACMA soon balked at the seismic, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and hazardous materials abatement costs associated with bringing Building 71 into compliance as a public space suitable for hosting events and exhibiting art. And indeed, there is no evidence that any work has been done to improve or activate the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park site.
However, the lease agreement did not only call for LACMA to retrofit and activate the derelict Building 71. The lease states:
Additionally, within one year of the execution date of the Lease, LACMA shall provide certain public programming at several recreation centers within the surrounding communities. Within eighteen (18) months of the execution of the Lease, LACMA will begin public programming on the premises area.
If LACMA was providing public programming at any of the South Los Angeles recreation centers, or on the grounds of the Wetlands Parks, we would have expected to have seen a press release. Nothing has been heard about any of the exciting initiatives promised in the January 2018 lease agreement:
• Free Social Justice-themed School Tour and Art-making Program
• Teen Tour Guide Program
• Intergenerational Weekday and Weekend Programs
• Teaching Assistant Training Program
One year has passed with no public programming at rec centers. 18 months has passed with no public programming at the Wetlands Park. We are now more than two years out, and LACMA appears to be in violation of its no-rent 35-year lease from the City of Los Angeles.
The lease served its purpose, though, by providing cover for Michael Govan’s inspiring claim that approving the ill-conceived, over-priced Zumthor building was serving the public good and bringing great art and cultural programming to South Los Angeles.
Recent reporting by Carolina Miranda in the Los Angeles Times suggests LACMA may be shirking its responsibilities at the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park because it simply doesn’t have the money.
We believe that City Council should hold LACMA accountable, and remind the museum that it made a commitment to bring the arts to South Los Angeles. LACMA and City Hall owe the community straight answers about what’s happening with Building 71. It’s not enough to clap each other on the back and smile for the press release photos: you have to write the checks and do the work and actually improve Los Angeles.
Or perhaps, since LACMA isn’t using Building 71, and if the museum is indeed in violation of its lease agreement, this useful and centrally located City-owned site could be freed up for other civic uses. Its 84,000 square feet could even be used to house some of the more than 60,000 Angelenos who are sleeping on the streets.
If you share our concerns about the misuse of this site and about LACMA’s unsustainable redevelopment scheme, please sign our petition and consider supporting the Save LACMA non-profit, which is currently fundraising for a ballot measure to stop the museum from destroying itself.