Academy Museum Construction Halted, But Director Says Opening Date on Track

The long-gestating facility is still set to open to the public on Dec. 14, Bill Kramer tells The Hollywood Reporter.
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The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

Construction on the long-gestating Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles has been put on hold by the coronavirus crisis — but Academy officials insist that, per plans announced on the 92nd Oscars telecast on Feb. 9, it will still open to the public on Dec. 14.

"I think we're in a great position to open," museum director Bill Kramer tells The Hollywood Reporter. "The building is done. Our exhibitions are locked in. We're fine-tuning the exhibitions' text and labels. So if this [pandemic] was going to happen, this is a moment where it is not knocking us off our schedule, and we're grateful for that."

Noting that the main "thing that's left to do is the installation of our exhibitions," Kramer adds, "We're continuing to work with our designers and our exhibition fabricators on a plan for the installation of the exhibitions, given the current coronavirus situation. So far, we do not have to change the opening date."

The Academy's journey to having its own museum has been a long and bumpy one. First discussed when the organization was in its infancy nearly a century ago, and intermittently ever since, the Academy in 2012 finally announced plans to proceed — specifically, erecting a giant Renzo Piano-designed facility partly within the former May Company Building on the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue, and partly in a Death Star-like spherical structure to be constructed behind it.

The museum originally was slated to open in 2017, but its opening date has since been pushed back numerous times and costs have soared from the original projection of $250 million to $388 million to $482 million. Nevertheless, on Feb. 7, two days before the aforementioned Oscars ceremony, the finish line appeared within sight: Journalists were given a tour of the property — which appeared to be complete save for exhibits, and impressed many — and were told that 95 percent of fundraising has been collected or pledged.

However, on March 18, the day before California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order in response to the coronavirus outbreak, the Academy, out of an abundance of caution, decided to halt work on the museum site, even as its neighbor, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, elected to proceed with its own construction, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

"First and foremost, we are focused on the health and well-being of our team, so that made it an easy decision," Kramer emphasizes. "We're [also] at a point in our schedule where we could do it and not lose time. But we're constantly assessing, with our construction team and our exhibition fabricators, what the schedule looks like — on a daily basis — given how the virus is playing out."

The contents of the museum's opening exhibitions are already in the Academy's possession, but have not yet been installed. "Remotely, the museum team has done a remarkable job of coming together and continuing all of the design work and exhibitions planning work that we have to do before we install the exhibitions," Kramer explains. "We were able to port all of that work off-site, and that's been continuing. We need to write didactic text and labels for all of our exhibitions in order to present it to our designers to prepare for installation in the exhibitions. And this has given us time to sit with our material and write a lot."

Kramer also shares that museum fundraising has progressed even in the current climate of economic uncertainty: "We've not seen a slowdown on gifts coming in. To our great surprise, we've been able to close several big gifts in the last couple of weeks, so I do not anticipate a slowdown in achieving our pre-opening goal before we open. We're getting close to being 97 percent of the way there. It's been very heartening to see a lot of our big donors making gifts to help."

How much longer can the museum team be kept off-site and yet still be ready to open on Dec. 14? "It's hard to pinpoint a date on that," Kramer acknowledges. "But what I will say is that if this lockdown continues well into May, we may have to consider moving the date. But we're not there yet."

He reasons, "Building a large cultural project takes a long period of time, and there are a lot of outside variables that you can't control. When you enter into a project of this scale, you have to be able to pivot and to work with outside variables in a productive way. And that's what we're doing."