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Now a Private Institution : Long Beach Art Museum Declares Independence

September 26, 1985|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — It began as a perception that cultural institutions in this city were not keeping pace with its redevelopment.

It evolved into an agreement between the City Council and a private foundation.

And if everything goes as expected, a new era will begin next week for the Long Beach Museum of Art. After 30 years as a city institution, the museum--located in a quaint brick building overlooking the sea on Ocean Boulevard--is going private.

"The museum has come of age," said Patrick Mohr, a sculptor who lives in Long Beach. "It is ready to strike out on its own and set its own priorities."

Among those priorities, said museum officials, are more major fund-raising efforts, bigger and better exhibitions, greater emphasis on art education and an eventual move to a more imposing location befitting a museum that wishes to be taken seriously.

Mohr was one of about 500 artists and art lovers who gathered at a Long Beach gallery Sunday night for an art drawing originally planned as part of a yearlong fund-raising effort to achieve independence for the museum. When it became clear that the goal had already been reached, however, the benefit became sort of a symbolic "coming out" for the "new" Long Beach museum.

"We're ecstatic," said Judy Maltese, who, as director of development for the Long Beach Museum of Art Foundation, oversaw the fund-raising drive supported by such corporations as Atlantic Richfield, McDonnell Douglas and Procter & Gamble.

At stake was whether the foundation could satisfy a year-old agreement with the city under which the foundation would take over management of the museum if it could raise $300,000 by Oct. 1. Even before the fund-raiser kicked in an estimated $20,000 to $25,000, Maltese said, the necessary $300,000 was in the bank. It is to be maintained in a separate reserve account as a sort of "insurance policy" should the museum flounder.

Although the city had not yet certified the amount, said Assistant City Manager Edward Tewes, it was expected to do so this week followed by formal action on the matter at next Tuesday's City Council meeting.

"This will significantly improve the offerings of the art museum," said Tewes, who called the relationship between the foundation and the city under the new arrangement a "cooperative effort."

In addition to the $300,000 reserve fund, the agreement required the foundation to submit a five-year operating plan to be approved by the city. That requirement was satisfied last spring.

The agreement calls for the city to continue its annual contribution of $357,000 for the next five years. It will also allow the museum continued use of the city-owned building it has occupied since the 1950s--once the home of a wealthy philanthropist--while searching for permanent lodgings deemed more appropriate.

Wasn't Keeping Pace

Talk of an independent, private museum began several years ago when members of the foundation--a nonprofit support group that has been operating under various names since the museum was founded--began noticing what they perceived as a major discrepancy between the pace of the city's physical redevelopment and the growth of its cultural institutions.

"The art museum simply wasn't keeping pace with the rest of the city," said Jennifer Cameron, president of the 850-member organization.

One major advantage of private management, said Tewes, will be the foundation's ability to hire personnel based on its own criteria rather than having to adhere to civil service requirements as does the city Department of Parks and Recreation, which now manages the museum.

Museum officials see another major advantage in being able to attract funding from corporations and foundations that, though legally or ethically barred from supporting a municipal facility, would contribute to one governed by a private nonprofit foundation.

Almost immediately after the change in status, said museum executive director Stephen Garrett, he hopes to see annual revenues increase from the current $357,000 to about $500,000. And within a year, he said, he would like to be running the institution on an annual budget of about $1 million.

"We will be able to run more vigorously, more effectively and more imaginatively" as a private institution, Garrett said.

Regarding the ultimate location of the museum, he said, two sites are being considered. One would make the new Long Beach Museum of Art part of a 14-acre development being planned at the old Pike amusement park grounds near the Hyatt Regency Hotel. A second and more likely site, said Garrett, is in the downtown World Trade Center, which is expected to be completed in about three years.

Either site, he said, would greatly enhance the museum's capacity and accessibility, create more visibility and be "very advantageous and a considerable impetus to fund-raising."

But the most important result, he said, will be a better museum able to attract and serve more people.

'Not a Hick Sea Town'

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