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Sunday, Oct 1, 2023

Museum Mecca

Los Angeles may be known for its movie studios and beaches, but the county also has a large number of museums, a number that is growing as more institutions open. Meanwhile, other museums are undergoing major upgrades.

The Hammer Museum, in Westwood, debuted its new look — in the works for more than two decades — in March. A few miles down Wilshire Boulevard, neighboring institutions Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the La Brea Tar Pits are in different phases of construction, renovations and upgrades in the Mid-Wilshire neighborhood. LACMA began construction in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, while the Tar Pits selected its winning design in 2019 but is still in the planning phase. 

While Los Angeles has been home to the movies for more than a century, the Academy Museum, which opened in 2021 in Mid-Wilshire, and the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, under construction in Exposition Park, will finally serve as much-needed educational centers for the visual arts. 

Also in Exposition Park, the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History recently unveiled a $75 million campus renovation, and last year, the California Science Center broke ground on a 200,000-square-foot addition that will house the Space Shuttle Endeavour.  

Many of the renovations have similarities — greenspace and shade, restaurants, interactive educational zones, improved accessibility and environmentally sustainable design. 

What is the importance of these museums to L.A.’s bottom line? Prior to the pandemic, museums contributed about $50 billion annually to the U.S. economy, according to the American Alliance of Museums. More than three-quarters of all U.S. leisure travelers participate in cultural or heritage activities such as visiting museums, and these patrons spend 60% more money on average than other leisure travelers. 

An AAM survey of museum directors in 2022 indicated that more than half of museums responding have suffered pandemic-related financial losses since 2020. However, these institutions have proved resilient, as the survey indicated that, despite the financial hardships, 73% of responding museums were able to retain or restore all of their staff with support from government funding. Of the museums currently hiring, more than half are having difficulty filling open roles. 

Updates and new facilities will hopefully bring revived interest in these cultural institutions, but many of the renovations have come with costs beyond their expected price tags, some likely due to issues stemming from the pandemic and the resultant supply-chain disruptions. LACMA construction has been over budget, and the Lucas Museum has seen its opening pushed back twice. The Academy Museum was initially slated to debut in 2017, but did not open its doors until September 2021. 

— Gina Hall

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