Patronage in L.A. (Part 3 of 3): Will Hollywood Come Through For the Art World?

by Yasmine Mohseni
Published: April 19, 2013
Annie Philbin, Will Ferrell, and Viveca Paulin-FerrellStefanie Keenan
Annie Philbin, Will Ferrell, and Viveca Paulin-Ferrell

A Hollywood Ending?

Where, finally, does Hollywood fit in, a community that many in the Los Angeles pin their hopes on? The question seems to be a divisive one. Some claim that the film industry never opens its checkbooks for the visual arts, while others counter that it has been on the whole very supportive. The reality most likely lies somewhere in the middle.

Hollywood is continually courted not just for funds but for the glamour that famous actors, directors, and producers bring to the all-important museum galas. LACMA’s Art + Film Gala and the Hammer’s Gala in the Garden are prime examples. But, as Hammer director Ann Philbin points out, focusing only on the stars can be deceptive: “There are a lot of people from off-camera Hollywood who support us and there are many collectors with a real passion for the arts in the [talent] agencies: I have five agents on my boards — one from the Gersh Agency, one from WME, two from UTA, and one from CAA.”

Yet a sense of untapped potential remains. Historically, Hollywood has often opted to support charitable causes in the fields of health, education, and the environment rather than the visual arts. Theories abound as to the source of this disconnect, the most pervasive — and perhaps most persuasive — being that, since the film community already considers itself part of the larger Los Angeles art scene, its members view their own professional activities as support enough for the arts.

That said, Michael Ovitz, whose personal art collection is world-renowned, and the agency CAA, which has an impressive corporate collection, have helped shift the paradigm of Hollywood’s support for art. “There is now more interest in the arts [from Hollywood], says LAXART director (and L.A. native) Lauri Firstenberg, though she adds that this “hasn’t been the norm.”

While Hollywood is certainly the most high-profile rainmaker in the Los Angeles economy as a whole, it is neither the only game in town nor is it impermeable to the city’s cultural dynamics. Which is to say, the lack of an underlying culture of patronage is still the real issue. As Los Angeles develops this culture, professionals ranging from real estate executives and lawyers to doctors and Hollywood executives may become more attuned to what it means to support the arts. At the end of the day, Hollywood is an underdeveloped donor pool just like other moneyed communities in Los Angeles, which still needs to be cultivated.

Learning from MOCA

In the United States, the lack of significant government support for the arts means that much of the responsibility for safeguarding the country’s cultural institutions has been left to the private citizen. With this in mind, it is nothing short of amazing that places like the Hammer and LAXART even exist in the first place. Nevertheless, for Los Angeles to secure its position as an international capital for the visual arts, its institutions must have more consistent support.

At the time of publication, MOCA trustees announced it had received $60 million in pledges. The question is, why did the museum have to careen to the brink of ruin for the second time in four years for its trustees to step up to the plate and support the museum? Certainly, not everyone in Los Angeles agrees with Jeffrey Deitch’s vision for the museum, however many concur that MOCA should exist as an independent and freestanding institution. The key for MOCA and others is steady and enduring cultivation of potential benefactors through decisive vision, strong leadership, and rigorous programming.

L.A. has the seedlings of a patron culture. It is now crucial for institutions to imbue potential benefactors with a sense of ownership — because if today’s donors care enough to invest in L.A.’s cultural infrastructure, the following generations will understand its importance and have a model on which to build upon.


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