Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What's So Bad About a New Museum?

Historic guard station
The Presidio in San Francisco, Ca
Hello Everyone:

Alright I'm back after a World Cup break.  I want to extend my deepest congratulations to Team USA #usmnt for a magnificent run during the tournament and to Team Belgium for a game well played.  Back to the blog

When we last left off on Monday, I updated you on the latest design proposal for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  The new plan called for a campus expansion across Wilshire Boulevard.  This led me to pull out an article from City Lab, titled "Why Cities Should Be More Skeptical of New Cultural Centers and Expansions," by Kriston Capps.  Mr. Capps considers whether or not new cultural centers, such as a George Lucas (as in Star Wars) proposed $700 million museum of art and Americana, is a good idea for whichever city lands this projects.

Proposed George Lucas Museum
Early this year, the Presidio Trust canceled a developers' competition for proposals for an eight-acre site across from Crissy Field, a former military air field in San Francisco.  One of the final three competitors was Mr. Lucas, who is looking for a site to build his museum.  After deliberate consideration, the Presidio Trust board voted unanimously to decline Mr. Lucas' and two other proposals.  The city of Los Angeles was jumping for joy over the possibility of landing the Lucas center.  According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, "Mayor Eric Garcetti aims to tear down the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena (located near the University of Southern California) and host the Lucas museum in its place."  In an open letter posted on the Mayor's website, the Mayor writes, "We'd like you to consider opening your museum in a place where its impact can be amplified like no other, Los Angeles." (  Talk about being a shill.

In the meantime, the "City by The Bay," has found renewed hope to build the museum. The Presidio Trust has offered Mr. Lucas a parcel next to the one he already owns, the Letterman Digital Art Center.  Not to be one-upped San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee sent Mr. Lucas a letter pleading San Francisco's case, it was even co-signed by the city's formers from the last four decades.  Talk about shilling. Meanwhile, over in the City of Chicago, colorful Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pledging a leas near the hallowed Soldier Field for the "Lucas Cultural Arts Museum for the princely sum of one dollar per year.  Once the dust settled on this light-saber fight, the force was strongest with Chicago, as the "Windy City" bested San Francisco for George Lucas Museum. (

George Lucas and friends
Has The Force rendered, otherwise reasonably intelligent people, completely bonkers?  Not so, according to Carolina A. Miranda, a blogger for the Times, who has launched her own campaign. #WhyLucasNOTinLA.  Ms. Miranda opines that collection of Hollywood memorabilia, Norman Rockwell and Andrew Wyeth paintings are too syrupy and Los Angeles already has enough.  There is even a rebel alliance in Chicago.  According to an un-named Chicago Bears Football Team fan posting on the Chicago Tribune, "You can kiss tailgating in Soldier Field as we know it good-bye if this deal gets done.  "If we're going to give a billionaire a $1 lease for the property, we're selling the city short," huffed one Chicago alderman

Map of cultural institution building 1994-2008
Ah my padwans, Kriston Capps tells us that there are reasons to be suspect of new cultural centers and expansions, especially when cities fall all over themselves like over excited fanboys in the presence of George Lucas.  A new book, due out in early 2015, titled Cultural Organization: Buildings Arts Facilities in U.S. Communities presents research that demonstrates how civic leaders and arts patrons fall victim to specific plans when it comes to cultural institutions.  The book builds on a study undertaken by the University of Chicago Cultural Policy Center which examined new cultural facilities built in America between 1994 and 2008-boom time for new museums and arts institutions.  This research led its co-authors: Joanna Woronkowicz, D. Carroll Joynes, and Norman Bradburn concluded:

In terms of the study, our major hypothesis was that these major facility projects-new museums, new expansions-would have these positive net benefits to the surrounding urban areas...And they would have potentially less positive or even negative effects on surrounding organizations.

Using case studies, surveys, and construction-cost analyses, the Cultural Policy Center study determined that the museum building boom did not lead to any net benefits for the host communities, as predicted by the "Bilbao Effect."  The good news was poverty rates fell and property values generally rose in communities where new cultural institutions were built, the bad news-poorer residents  suffered displacement.  Not all surprising when you think about it.  Gentrification aside, the researchers' evidence demonstrated that supply may have exceeded demand  during the course of the cultural facility building boom.  The result of this excessive supply left some cities with the responsibility for cultural institutions they didn't need.

The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
Philadelphia, Pa
In the book, the team of researchers followed up on some of their findings: expansions and museum projects don't have a positive or negative carry-over effect for adjacent cultural institutions.  A draft chapter that Professor Joanna Woronkowicz shared with Kriston Capps outlines some of the common traps civic leaders fall into in their mad pursuit of the arts,

The types of leaders who provide the passion and drive to build structures of this sort [major performing arts centers] are successful men and women who are accustomed to relying on their own experience and judgement...They depend on what they might describe as 'inside knowledge-knowledge gleaned from their own experiences, an those of their collaborators' experiences.

What tends to be absent in their thinking, 'outside knowledge,' such as what statisticians refer to as 'the base rate' regarding the distribution of projects that did not go as planned...

Another trap that civic leaders fall into is hindsight and consistency bias: memories about decision-making for projects tend to change over time, and people adjust their memories to adapt to present circumstances

While the Philadelphia Orchestra originally embarked upon a building project for the purpose of constructing a new single-purpose concert hall, the opportunity to make it an economic development anchor in downtown Philadelphia partly persuaded its leaders to morph the idea into something entirely different-a PAC [performing arts center]...Today, the reason for building the Kimmel Center is frequently remembered by the community as being to revive a distressed former industrial city's downtown.

Cost overruns and project delays, typically associated with institutional overreach-the study found that a full 91% of PAC built during the period examined went over budget.  Cultural Organization: Buildings Arts Facilities in U.S. Communities demonstrates that civic officials frequently overstate revenues and underestimate expenses for new projects-typical.  Of the projects surveyed, 59% presented lower revenues than projected, while 59% presented higher expenses.

Modified design proposal for LACMA
Peter Zumthor
So does this mean that the proposed $650 million Los Angeles County Museum of Art is really bad idea?  For that matter is the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum a product of the dark side of The Force? In the name of full disclosure, neither project is covered in the latest research, which is not meant to be a guide for deciding whether or not to build a museum or not.  What we do know about the proposed LACMA plan is that everyone from Mayor Garcetti on down is excited about it-Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne is the head cheerleader.  What the research shows when an abundance of enthusiasm overshadows real support tempered by clear-headed thinking, civic officials and arts patrons make mistakes, and these mistakes can result in budget shortfalls and cost overruns.  Therefore, proposed cultural institutions can be bad for a city and the reverse.

Like me on Facebook
Follow me on Twitter and on Pinterest
Instagram- find me at hpblogger

No comments:

Post a Comment