Mo' Money, Mo' Problems

LACMA receives $50 million gift towards controversial campus rebuild

LACMA is on its way towards building a new campus after a surprise donation from the Keck Foundation. (Courtesy The Boundary)

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has received a major donation in its effort to build a new campus designed by Peter Zumthor. The Los Angeles Times reported that a local charitable organization, the W.M. Keck Foundation, offered a $50 million pledge to the project this week, bringing the total commitments to $640 million out of the needed $750 million. 

Robert A. Day, chief executive of the Keck Foundation, is a LACMA trustee and one of two board members to pledge millions of dollars to the plan in recent years. In 2016, Elaine Wynne of Wynne Resorts also pledged $50 million. With these two donations, alongside with the $150 million offered by David Geffen in 2017 and the $125 million recently released in taxpayer funds, LACMA still needs to raise another $110 million for the construction of the new building.

Greg Goldin, a Los Angeles-based critic and architectural historian, heads up the Citizens’ Brigade to Save LACMA. In a conversation with AN, he said the group was dismayed by the Keck Foundation’s choice to donate to the LACMA building fund. Goldin thinks it’s possible that the philanthropy organization doesn’t know what it’s actually paying for. “We don’t know what the board of trustees at the Keck Foundation has seen versus what the public has seen in terms of visuals or building plans,” he said. “If they haven’t seen something other than the absurd renderings released to the world, then they’ve voted on this decision in complete darkness. They’re giving $50 million to what?” 

Aerial rendering of LACMA proposal

The proposal still spans Wilshire Boulevard. (Courtesy Atelier Peter Zumthor/The Boundary)

AN reported earlier this month that demolition work—specifically abatement work—had begun on the downtown Los Angeles site despite the fact that fundraising for the project is not complete. Crews were photographed working on the exterior of the William Pereira-designed Ahmanson Building and preparing for asbestos removal. Over the last several months, debates have swirled over just how much the building project will end up costing LACMA and whether the reported $750 million will actually cover the final costs. Michael Govan, director of LACMA, has repeatedly bumped up the project’s price tag while dually decreasing the footprint of the gallery space within Zumthor’s new building. 

As noted previously, fundraising efforts have been notoriously slow. In November, Christopher Knight of the L.A. Times argued that no one new in L.A. would pay for Govan’s “shortsighted” vision. Even though the Keck Foundation ended up pledging $50 million, Goldin isn’t confident the dollar figure signals LACMA’s rise from the proverbial financially-fraught ashes. 

“The question is how much is it actually going to cost? According to history, the higher the cost of this project, the fewer square feet you’re going to get. Govan and LACMA will not release floor plans, the architectural drawings, or the cost estimates because they know full-well it will expose the truth that this project has gotten out of hand.”

Govan told the L.A. Times that the institution will turn to the public to raise the rest of the money needed. 

AN has reached out to the Keck Foundation for comment.

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