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AMPAS, LACMA talk museum pact

Museum could be located in the former May Co. building on the Miracle Mile

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ plan to explore a partnership with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art should help its long-gestating movie museum clear two major hurdles: the overwhelming cost and the means to raise the coin.

Though AMPAS has a long history of funding educational and philanthropic endeavors, it’s always relied on a rumored $80 million yearly budget — the bulk of which comes from the hefty license fee from ABC for carrying the Oscarcast — to do so. But fund-raising? Not so much.

It was raising money to break ground on the Hollywood property when the economy derailed that plan in 2008. But changes in AMPAS’ executive ranks — and a healthy amount of fund-raising expertise from LACMA director Michael Govan — could grease the wheels. Whatever the reason, AMPAS appears to be ready to start reaching into willing pockets to make the museum happen.

“We’re in the business of fund-raising now, let me tell you,” said CEO Dawn Hudson, who took her role in July.

While this isn’t the first time the Academy has announced ambitious plans for a museum, partnering with LACMA could be the tipping point. Leasing the former May Co. building at Wilshire and Fairfax removes the considerable expense of new construction (sources say the plan cuts the cost by half) and gives the Acad access to LACMA’s skills at fund-raising and museum administration — both of which have steep learning curves.

The agreement-in-principle, announced late Tuesday, also benefits LACMA, which is rumored to have been looking to unload the property (which is geographically central, but subject to building restrictions due to its status as an L.A. historic landmark). By no means is a LACMA partnership set in stone; even the Acad’s release was heavily couched, saying that the respective governing boards had agreed to “sign a memorandum of understanding to work in good faith” to establish the museum together.

The only loser appears to be Hollywood, which won’t get the added foot traffic that AMPAS’ previous plan promised.

“We’ve been talking about a museum for more years than I’d like to tell you,” Academy prexy Tom Sherak confessed to Variety. “If we couldn’t build, which was our first choice, this was the perfect place.”

This isn’t the first time the Acad has looked into occupying the building, built in 1939. Shortly before LACMA purchased it in 1994, the Academy eyed the property but decided that building from the ground up made more sense.

In 2006, the Academy announced that it had chosen a plot on Vine Street, adjacent to its existing Pickford Center, for its long-planned movie museum and cultural center. But the declining economy pushed back the plan to break ground in 2008 — and then 2009 — and the project remained dormant until 2010.

That spring, LACMA director Govan and former Academy president Sid Ganis began talking about the success cities such as Paris and Turin have found with movie-themed museums, which ultimately connected Govan to Sherak. Hudson had already established a relationship with Govan months prior to taking the reins at the Academy when she partnered Film Independent with LACMA to relaunch the museum’s film program.

Terry Semel, the former chairman and co-CEO of Warner Bros., is co-chair of the LACMA board of trustees. “The LACMA board is delighted to be facilitating this important cultural event, which has special resonance for me, having spent most of my life dedicated to the great art of movies,” Semel said.

Sherak added that the Academy does intend to endow and run the day-to-day operations of the museum, with insight from Govan and his team. LACMA says it’s making the museum a priority as well.

“Despite the economic collapse, it’s a good time to work together,” Govan said. “The announcement of the subway coming to that corner and the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars that we’ve made to that site makes it an attractive center for the city.”

Plans for the Pickford Center-adjacent property in Hollywood are still to be determined, but Sherak says the AMPAS board has approved the demolition of the existing buildings. “We’re there, and we will continue to be there for the time being,” Sherak said.

Govan points out that seeing the Acad’s museum in an edifice built the same year that “The Wizard of Oz” mesmerized audiences is somehow fitting. “The gold cylinder (on the front) — it’s an Oscar waiting to be,” he said, pointing to the building’s importance to L.A. history. “It brings the past along with it.”

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