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Don’t stop LACMA, #OCCUPYLACMA – Japhy Grant

I’m writing today to urge the people of Los Angeles County and the Southern California region to prevent the immediate and imminent loss of a project we have spent billions of dollars to fund in the zeal for one man to make his mark on an institution, despite prominent voices in the community and residents and members like me showing strong opposition not just with the process, but with the results of a decision that is not the result of a conversation, but a series of compromises on an idea that nobody was ever hot on in the first place. It changes the character of the institution forever by transforming it into a revolving art space for rent (I see you) rather than an enduring public resource that’s not simply a stage for artists, but a platform for the creative community and region-at-large.

I’m talking in this highfalutin’ language today because well, someone has got to. This was Renzo Piano’s vision for LACMA — and because of Govan’s haste, we’ll never get to see it realized. It’s Piano who reorganized LACMA and led to its recent renaissance and he saw it as a pedestrian palazzo with terraces and a central spine that unified a mish-mash of architecture that itself told the story of Los Angeles. He applied old-world principles and didn’t demolish everything. It was economical, it was sustainable, it was deeply mediterranean.

I’m a fan. It’s also Piano who designed the Academy Museum next door to LACMA which is set to open this December when half of Piano’s vision and the defining feature of it — the weaving of old and new into livable public space — will be leveled for Govan’s blob.

I propose we pause the demolition so that we, as a community, can experience Piano’s vision realized. Whether it is a masterpiece or a failure, let us experience this thing that has been promised to us for decades. Let’s use that time to have the conversations that need to happen — and which all of us want to have — about the future of LACMA as an institution and its relation to its neighbors, creative communities, stakeholders and creative vitality and opportunity of the entire Southern California region. Bring great and creative minds and voices together and use this space to imagine our future together.

And when we’re done doing that, if we all love the blob, will knock the whole thing down, but LACMA has an institutional and moral obligation to allow the public to have meaningful access to an architectural master plan that is the result of decades of effort. To do so mere months before its completion is an offense that’s liable to split the community from the museum for many years to come. Perhaps Piano will return and have a conversation with Zumthor that’s honest and candid. Invite the community to reimagine the space at scales both individual and collective. This is not a protest against what you’re doing, it’s an invitation to do something truly unique and different for a museum — listen.

As an institution, LACMA is a source of pride for the region. It is ambitious not just in its scope, but its scale — and by that I mean, I admire LACMA’s commitment to extending its footprint in meaningful ways to the entire Southern California region. I am on board with the work you do, but the city deserves a chance to see the results of Piano’s work and as a curator of architecture as art, you have to recognize that in destroying LACMA now, you deprive us of something we should at least get to experience once before it goes away forever.

During this pause, open the museum up. Have the conversation about what an art museum should be, but have it with the community and on the now presumably blank and barren walls of the east side. Once all the buildings are open, give us six months to experience the final results and let’s decide the future of our community art museums as a community. We have a real opportunity to rethink what art institutions can do to develop creative collaborative community arts projects. Let’s have a real conversation about the future of these institutions and how they can stimulate creative economies and communities across the region in a fair, fun and meaningful way.

I am excited by the boldness of Govan’s vision. We need that in our leaders.

I do not agree with the direction that boldness has taken him. Regardless of any engineering, common sense dictates that a building footprint that famously oozed tar through its fountains (a fact I know in large part because those buildings remain and I like learning about what LACMA was like as Los Angeles grew) when it was first built is not the best place to build a balanced table that crosses the major freeway.

And just one quick aesthetic beef, while I have your attention — crossing Wilshire doesn’t just damage LACMA, it damages the historic character of the neighborhood. The defining feature of Miracle Mile are the long horizontal lines in the architecture all flowing parallel to the street — an innovation of the automobile age that’s a signature feature (hence the museum) of our part of Los Angeles’ cultural story. You’re literally breaking that line. The one defining thing, you broke it. And I suspect you know you broke it and did it in desperation for a viable solution because the original idea — a long thin black horizontal line running parallel to the street — is a direct reference to this feature of the neighborhood and one of the things I actually dug about the idea.

But here is a chance for LACMA to continue to innovate. Let’s take a beat an imagine the future of LACMA together — and not just the museum, but its place in our community and let’s find a way to decide that together, with one voice. Mak this a showstopper for the community. Invite artists to collaborate with the community to create shared visions od the future. Create immersive art experiences. Tell the story of LACMA. Use the building to tell the story of museums — after all, you have at least what seven, eight, nine unique periods all reflected in these buildings. Tell the story of art in California. Acknowledge that the land we have built this temple to Western tradition is built upon land that did not belong to us. Use the theater as a debate hall. Or a community forum. Let it be, even if it’s just for a season — Piano’s utopian art vision for our city. It’s so beautiful. It deserves a chance to be experienced. I beg you. I will work with you and I am certain many others will, too.

I also think this is a great opportunity to make a real case for what you want to do to the institution. It’s radical and we lose not just space, but an institutional identity rooted in the permanent collection which exists as an ongoing and enduring cultural resource. LACMA is abandoning a core responsibility of major institutional museums in this refit; the mandate to provide as much access to the permanent collection to the community as is possible within the confines of available resources and priorities. Now, if you tell me the way you’re going to compensate for the loss of our permanent collection by creating a community art and creative exchange where the collection can make it into qualified homes and spaces to be enjoyed in personal and communal ways, I’d say awesome sign me up, but there’s a reason the Broads aren’t going to give you any more art and that reason is that your plan doesn’t guarantee the public will have access to the work in a meaningful way.

I happen to believe that is not a responsibility LACMA should abandon and I would love to hear ideas from both LACMA itself, but also our community, especially the creative communities of Southern California. We talk of revolution, let’s do what we do best, imagine a world and bring it to life.

I’m not writing just to LACMA as an institution, but to my fellow creators, artists, storytellers and makers — LACMA as a creative immersive gallery space where people from across Southern California can come and imagine the future together, not as a sci-fi utopia, but as Piano dared us to — an amalgamation of past decisions and mistakes, unforeseen circumstances, creative innovations and desperate need that the city is not an engine for, but a recording of the passage of time in concrete choices that we don’t even see until they’re pointed out to us in a bold red line drawn through the center — that we are both bound by our past decisions and free to reimagine them. The pedestrian-unfriendly post-modern-industrial-art-complex becomes a delightful progression of little Italian piazzas with little places to shop, eat, rest and use the space not as a mausoleum to one man’s imagination, but a shared space that we all have a sense of ownership in.

I say we don’t fight LACMA, we #OCCUPYLACMA. Fill the place with art. Follow the rules and don’t be a dink of course, but let’s get some AR layering on there and think about community two-man theater. Make LACMA a stage to talk about art. Look, I do not want to be political, but the Sanders Diner is down the street and a community art action to raise a conversation about the future of community-supporter art & entertainment coinciding with the demolition of an unrealized utopia months before its completion and the launch of the film museum that also gave you The Oscars, there’s some synergy here.

I don’t think this is about protest at all. We should be occupying LACMA! As a city we desperately need more shared civic spaces. Screens have isolated us from our physical community so we can go live our lives in the cloud. Go to LACMA and let your voice be heard. I live nearby and I’ll start to hang out. If people want to share their opinion about the future of LACMA or L.A. or Southern California, America, Humanity, the World, you name it, I’ll record anything you’re willing to share. Same goes for anyone in the creative community. Or LACMA. Or neighbors of LACMA. Can we pause for a minute and imagine the future together before we tear it all down?

Let’s start with the dope art museum they’re about to demolish in my backyard.

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