The Show Must Go On

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The Bandwagon, Vincente Minelli, 1953

The Bandwagon, Vincente Minelli, 1953

Last week I posted about the prospect that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art might end its more than 40-year-old weekend film program and why that would be a bad idea. LACMA Director Michael Govan has said that he planned to “suspend” the program in October because it had suffered a budget shortfall of about $1 million over the last ten years — meaning about $100,000 annually.

But the LA Times is now reporting that two organizational donors have come forward with a combined gift of $150,000, enough to keep the program running through next June — time enough perhaps to find more donors who could endow it on a longer term basis.

One of the donors is the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which organizes the Golden Globe Awards. The other turns out to be a former division of my very own massive conglomerate Time Warner Cable, in association with the arts channel Ovation TV. (I say former because we spun them off not long ago — and, no, I didn’t hear about this story from anyone in that company or this one. I just read about it in the Times.) Interestingly, Philip Berk, the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association says that what moved his members to donate was the passionate letter that Martin Scorsese published not long ago in the LA Times explaining the program’s importance and imploring LACMA to reconsider.

Now that the local backlash against the cancellation announcement has sensitized LACMA to the fact that, uh, film making is an important industry in LA, the museum is also announcing plans to create a film department with full curatorial status, as the Museum of Modern Art has in New York. I have to assume that would go some way to protecting the weekend film program all by itself, since it makes no sense to have a film department without a regular exhibition program.

The $150,000 gift has only bought an eight-month reprieve, but it could be time enough to get a real fund raising effort underway to subsidize film at LACMA properly. And also to restore to full time status the program’s director, Ian Birnie, who’s been demoted to a part time consultant. You can’t run a serious program — and a serious one is the only kind LACMA should have — with a part-timer.