DTLA—A coterie of politicians, civic leaders and entertainment-industry luminaries, including a baseball cap-wearing Steven Spielberg, joined filmmaker George Lucas and his wife, businesswoman Mellody Hobson, this morning for the groundbreaking of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Exposition Park.
The event marked the start of construction for the massive project. The nonprofit museum will house Lucas’ personal collection of film artifacts and art. The Lucas family provided a gift of more than $1 billion for the museum’s construction, endowment and collection. The project, rising on a pair of surface parking lots on the western side of Exposition Park, will be a sleek, five-story, spaceship-like building designed by Ma Yansong of MAD Architects.
Lucas and Hobson touted the project’s location in the center of Los Angeles. Hobson said that she and her husband were looking to create “a school for schools,” a destination where students from elementary schools through universities could advance their education.
Lucas grew animated as he discussed the role of “narrative art.”
“This is an art museum, but I’m trying to position it almost as an anthropological museum,” Lucas said. “Popular art is an insight into a society and what they aspire to. What they really want, what they really are; it’s telling the narrative of their story, their history, their belief systems.”
The 300,000-square-foot building will be divided into two wings holding libraries, exhibition space, theaters and classrooms. It will showcase Lucas’ collection including photography, artwork ranging from Norman Rockwell to pulp artist Frank Franzetta, as well as storyboards, costumes, animation and behind-the-scenes components of motion pictures. The museum will also display items from the Star Wars films and the Indiana Jones franchise.
Lucas and Hobson originally intended to build the privately funded museum in Chicago. That plan fell apart in 2016 after community opposition erupted. A bidding competition ensued between Los Angeles and San Francisco, where a home was proposed on Treasure Island.
Lucas announced the selection of the Exposition Park site in January 2017, with the museum’s team saying they were attracted to the neighboring museums at Exposition Park, as well as the presence of nearby public transit options and schools.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, who led the campaign to get Lucas to choose Los Angeles, said the project will complement existing destinations such as the California Science Center and the Natural History Museum, as well as the under-construction Banc of California Stadium.
During his public remarks, Garcetti recalled a conversation he had with Lucas, saying, “At one point when you talked about this place you said, ‘Imagine a child can come to our museum and see how we imagine going into space, then go to the other end of Exposition Park and see how we actually did it.’”
The project will have a fifth-floor terrace with a meadow of native plants, and will also create 11 acres of surrounding green and park space. That will be based on California’s geological features, according to landscape architect Mia Lehrer, whose firm will design that part of the project. The surrounding acreage will play with elevation and try to tell a story about California’s natural development, she said.
“We’re going up 80 feet in a series of gardens, with places to sit and trees from the different topographic areas,” Lehrer told Los Angeles Downtown News. “It’s everything from the ocean up to the mountains.”
Admission at the museum will be free. The project will include 2,425 parking spaces.
County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas cited the jobs-generating power of the museum. The Lucas Museum staff estimates that more than 1,500 construction jobs will be created, and at least 350 permanent positions.
Ridley-Thomas also said the facility will “raise the cultural IQ” of Los Angeles and serve as a destination for children and adults.
Once open, the museum will have daily movie screenings in its two theaters. The educational component, housed in the southern wing of the building, will include a public library and digital classes. There will also be lessons and lectures in the museum itself, according to Deputy Director Judy Kim.
Lucas views the museum as filling a cultural niche.
“I think it’s important to have a museum that I used to jokingly say supports all the orphaned arts that nobody else wants to see, but everybody loves,” Lucas said. “That’s my dream for this.”
Construction is expected to wrap in late 2021.