Academy Museum Director on Latest Postponement: "If We Could Open in April, We Would"

Bill Kramer - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy AMPAS

Though we are in the midst of a global pandemic, there's still never a dull moment for Bill Kramer, the director and president of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures since October 2019.

On Friday, Kramer announced that the $388 million museum's opening has been postponed from April 30, 2021, to Sept. 30, 2021, the latest in a long series of delays caused initially by construction challenges and more recently by COVID-19.

But Kramer, speaking with The Hollywood Reporter via Zoom shortly after returning from a visit to the museum's campus at the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire along the Miracle Mile, emphasized that "everything is moving forward beautifully" and that the museum's offerings will still become accessible to the public in the spring, even if its doors won't open to the public until the fall.

Here is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

How would you characterize the museum's progress so far?

Everything is moving forward beautifully. We've been able to keep all of our exhibition installation work going throughout the pandemic in COVID-19 appropriate ways. We took a few weeks off earlier in the year, figured that out and it has been very smooth. Over the last couple of days, the word 'ACADEMY' has gone up around the gold cylinder [and the word 'MUSEUM' is going to be going up shortly; that's where the words 'May Co.' were when that department store occupied the building]. This is all to say: we're not stopping, and if we could open in April, we would open in April. But right now, to open in April, I'd need to hire 100 people, launch a multi-million-dollar marketing campaign and start selling tickets. In mid-November, we started thinking, "The pandemic's getting worse. Are we really going to be able to do this?" Since then, we've been talking non-stop, every day: "Can we do this? Should we do this?" We reviewed what Dr. Fauci said recently about the vaccine and the rollout, and even by April, maybe people in low-risk groups will only have started to get it. Museums have been closed in L.A. since March, except for one week, and 'Safer at Home' is happening and will continue. We don't see either of those things stopping anytime soon. In fact, on NPR they said we may go back into total lockdown in January in L.A. because things are so bad right now. All of this is to say, we can't open in April. I can't launch a marketing campaign where you're driving down Wilshire with banners saying 'Opening April 30th!' when everything is closed. And we are concerned about our visitors. We want to keep everyone safe and healthy; we don't want to encourage 5,000 people a day coming to the building in the midst of this. So we're moving the opening date to Sept. 30, with the gala on Sept. 25.

How did you pick Sept. 30, specifically?

Given the timeline that we're reading from Dr. Fauci on vaccines, we're hoping that, by this summer, large groups will be able to gather again. But we open only once, and we want it to be big, and we want to be able to celebrate with everybody, and doing that in the summer is really difficult — press won't come in, and it's hard to throw a gala in the summer. So we looked at key dates in the fall, and we wanted to avoid Toronto, we wanted to avoid Venice, we wanted to avoid Rosh Hashanah. And so the dates we landed on were to keep clear of key events and holidays.

Is it frustrating to you to have to keep pushing the date back?

This has been a really challenging pandemic for both the film industry and the cultural sector. But I'm really excited about the state of the project and the work that we've been doing. So while I'm disappointed that we have to make the move, it's the appropriate and safe thing to do, and I couldn't be more thrilled with how our exhibitions are looking and with our programming slate.

Why is the museum opening's date being pushed back but the date of the Oscars is not?

I don't want to be the mouthpiece for the Oscars — that's not my role. But you saw the Emmys, right? An awards show can happen in a virtual way; a museum, a cultural institution, cannot happen totally virtually. That being said, we will launch a series of virtual programs starting in April tied to the content of the museum.

Has Jacqueline Stewart started yet as the museum's chief artistic and programming officer?

Jacqueline officially starts in the first week of January. But she has already been working with our curatorial, educational and programming teams, and is already making a huge impact, so we're extremely excited about that. She is hard at work working with the team on both in-person and virtual programming.

Final question: Why announce a new opening date at all right now, as opposed to just saying, "Hey, we'll let you know once the pandemic abates"? Why put this pressure on yourselves, when none of us really knows how long this thing is going to remain a problem?

We definitely thought a lot about that, but we work both in the film world and in the world of arts and culture, and those calendars fill up very quickly. We want to make sure that we can hold dates on people's calendars to allow everyone we want to celebrate with to come to the opening.