"The point is, you can't do everything," Maguire said, referring to the museum's $21-million endowment, which is shockingly small by national standards. "You can't do it all at the same time, not if you are preparing a museum for the future. Look at what has been accomplished in 28 years. We have built collections, programs and buildings while depending on the county for an endowment. We did way more than we were obligated to do." Just a few months ago, he passed the hat among trustees and came up with $1.8 million for operations to help make up for lost county funds, he said.
A few minutes and a lot of facts later, he summed up his feelings about the county's budget reduction: "It stinks. The cuts took the guts out of the place in terms of how we operate it." But bad as the situation may be, he says, "all the problems are resolvable" and the museum has a promising future.
The concept of endowment remains a sore point, however. Many trustees patiently explain that LACMA was modeled after the National Gallery, which gets the bulk of its funding from the federal government. What they fail to note is that the National Gallery has an endowment of $195 million, about $95 million of which is not restricted for acquisitions.
But now the board is committed to increasing the museum's endowment, to about $200 million, Maguire says. He plans to schedule a retreat for trustees and staff to consider the implications of the Boston study, as well as a strategic plan developed by Los Angeles-based Andersen Consulting. "There's a wealth of useful information in these studies, and we need to look at it," he says.
HOW OTHER INSIDERS SEE THE PROBLEMS
As head of LACMA's board, Maguire is its chief spokesman but far from the only one. Several other trustees willingly air their views about the museum and their relationship to it:
* Attorney Daniel N. Belin, chairman of the board, ushers a reporter into his austerely furnished 22nd-floor office in Brentwood. A conversation about the museum will be "a pleasant interlude" in his hectic schedule, he says, but the subject worries him.
Eager to put the current problems in the context of past success, he offers an analogy: "It's like the stock market in 1987. Stocks lost 15% or 20%, but it was a momentary setback. . . . I am disappointed in recent events. But, in terms of the big picture, I'm not disappointed. I'm very proud of what we have accomplished and optimistic about where we are going."
* Dr. Richard A. Simms greets his interviewer at his spacious dental clinic in Harbor City and offers a tour of his collection of German drawings before settling into his wood-paneled office. During a two-hour conversation he talks about the county's past encouragement of the museum's growth and the importance of LACMA as a community resource where people of all backgrounds can discover their roots and learn about other cultures.
The big obstacle to developing this resource is no secret: "M-o-n-e-y, that's it," he says. And replacing lost public dollars with private funds is difficult, especially in a dismal economy. "We all know the museum needs a larger endowment. Rob Maguire came into office talking about the endowment. But the size and complexity of the museum make it like a battleship. The brakes are not going to stop it suddenly, and it takes a long time to turn it around."
* George Boone, a retired dentist who has contributed generously to the museum's education program, registers a vote of confidence by telephone. "I can't think of any other museum that has done as well in such a short time," he says. "It is just a marvel. I hold my head very proud." Having joined the board "to help the children of Southern California" and "to say thank you for being raised here," he says he has been stung by criticism of trustees who have given time and money to LACMA.
* Real estate investor Arthur Gilbert takes a different approach, in keeping with his reputation as a single-minded collector. Answering a telephone inquiry about his LACMA trusteeship, he says, "We all have our roles to play. My job is to build the best collection I can"--then he invites his interrogator to dinner. At the ensuing party in his sumptuous Beverly Hills home, Gilbert wears a sporty lemon-yellow outfit and holds forth on two of his favorite subjects: his distaste for modern and contemporary art and his love of "beautiful things," such as the decorative arts he collects.
"I think everything in the Anderson Building is junk," he says, referring to LACMA's wing for modern and contemporary art. But he is pleased that his donated collections of silver and micro-mosaics are installed at the museum, even if some unnamed curators fail to recognize their importance. His final gift to departing guests is a close look at his collection of gold snuff boxes that he plans to give to the museum--if it meets his conditions.