Since breaking ground in March 2018, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art has been a source of excitement, speculation and (a new) hope. But despite what casual followers might assume, it will not be a Disneyland-style homage to the filmmaker's movies. Rather, the museum will present and house Lucas' impressive art collection, featuring multifaceted, multimedia works that explore the powerful link between culture, storytelling and artistic expression. While its website touts “an insider's perspective on the cinematic creative process and the boundless potential of the digital medium,” museum reps promise much more — fine art, rare works, artifacts and archival wonders as well.
“The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art's collection is at the beginning of its story,” says Don Bacigalupi, founding president of the planned $1 billion facility. “Mr. Lucas' vast collection provides the seed from which the museum's collection will grow for many years to come. The collection features works of art in many mediums that tell stories from many times, places and cultures. In the museum's galleries, visitors can enjoy everything from Norman Rockwell's classic and nostalgic illustrations to the most advanced works of contemporary digital animation.”
Narrative art — art that tells a story — will be the basis for pretty much everything the museum houses, and with so many forms and styles represented, and a visionary like Lucas as inspiration, the space may just redefine the genre. Bacigalupi emphasizes the museum's exploration of storytelling in all its forms — painting, photography, comic art and film — exposing the powerful emotions and cultural truths these capture and convey, and inspiring imaginations at every age.
As George Lucas himself says on the museum's website, “The whole point of this museum is to stimulate the imagination … to open eyes to the possibilities of creating art.”
A brief refresher on the museum's mastermind, who may be the most revered filmmaker in history. The Star Wars franchise is, of course, his most monumental achievement, but nostalgia and American culture have driven most of what he does — as is evident in his first big hit, American Graffiti. The sci-fi genre provided a novel backdrop for Lucas' storytelling gifts but it also led him to develop filmmaking technology that changed the face of entertainment. His company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) pioneered the development of digital film editing, digital cinematography, digital projection and computer-generated imagery (CGI) as we know it. These techniques are now standard in film and television production. His companies, Lucasfilm, ILM and Skywalker Sound, have been collectively nominated for more than 100 Academy Awards and won more than 40.
Imagery, visuals, colors, textures, backdrops, portraiture, animation, iconography and multidimensional art are all powerful ways to capture and reflect humanity and convey emotion, which seems to be at the heart of what the Lucas Museum seeks to represent. No doubt Lucas' education-driven platforms also will be incorporated into the museum's programs. These include the George Lucas Education Foundation (providing materials and strategies to innovate in classrooms) and the foundation's Edutopia online community (a source of information on the web for teachers, parents, administrators and students). Though he is a Northern California native, Lucas' contributions to higher education manifested right here in L.A. — he spearheaded the 2006 expansion of USC's Cinematic Arts department (where he graduated back in 1967), becoming the single largest donor in the school's history with his $175 million gift.
According to museum reps, Lucas' lifelong interest in education and love of storytelling are the reasons for the museum in the first place. And while the Lucas Museum is deep in the planning stages right now — it is not expected open until 2022 — there seems to be a lot of thought about how it fits in with the changing landscape of downtown L.A. as a whole, and with Exposition Park, where it will stand.
“An integral part of our design is the creation of 11 new acres of publicly accessible green park and garden space,” the museum's president explains. “Our team is also in discussions for future collaborations with our Expo Park neighbors at the California African American Museum, California Science Center and the Natural History Museum.”
The Lucas Museum has been working closely with the team at Expo Park, and Bacigalupi says he looks forward to helping shape the future of the park, which has already seen improvements thanks to the MyFigueroa Project and Expo Line expansion.
“Accessible public transportation was a significant factor in our decision to build the museum in Expo Park,” Bacigalupi says. “The park is a magnet for the region and accessible from all areas of the city. With more than 100 elementary and high schools in close proximity of Expo Park, one of the country's leading universities and three world-class museums, this is truly an epicenter for learning, culture, creativity and diversity.”
When the museum was first proposed, several locations across the country were considered, and it seemed San Francisco was the favored choice. Los Angeles was ultimately selected, and a statement released at the time by museum's board attempted to explain why: “Settling on a location proved to be an extremely difficult decision precisely because of the desirability of both sites and cities. South Los Angeles' Promise Zone best positions the museum to have the greatest impact on the broader community, fulfilling our goal of inspiring, engaging and educating a broad and diverse visitorship.”
Though some have speculated that the Summer Olympics, to be held in Los Angeles in 2028, played into the decision, providing the museum with global exposure, Bacigalupi says L.A. was chosen before that was announced. More likely, L.A. being the home of the entertainment industry, not to mention the place where Lucas studied and got his start, was a deciding factor.
Regardless of the reason, the Lucas Museum promises to be a true media mecca that will change the look and feel of downtown and adjacent areas. The artistic renderings of the building itself do look rather space-age, but what's being planned for inside seems at this point to be anything but robotic or sterile. Unlike other improvement projects in the area that threaten to displace inhabitants or disrupt surrounding communities, this one, at this point anyway, promises a place to come together, to learn, to create and to marvel.
“The museum will be an integral part of the fabric of the community, offering educational programming for all ages, inspirational art and exhibitions, and many public programs that will be accessible to the community,” Bacigalupi explains. “[It] will feature public lectures and classes for all ages, hands-on workshops, after-school programs and camps for students, and a wide variety of additional educational opportunities. [It] will also feature two state-of-the art cinema theaters, an education center with hands-on and digital classrooms, a public research library, a casual cafe and restaurant, and a museum store.”