LACMA's director says his strategy has been to assume that industry philanthropy is not a special case. "Do you know how many wealthy people in L.A., not in the entertainment industry, don't give to museums?" Govan says. "I find it easier to ignore the 'industry issue' and treat people on an individual basis."
(The only industry-specific frustration Govan acknowledges is with LACMA's film program, which sparked ample outrage — but little money — from filmmakers when it was almost canceled in 2009. Govan says the program is being retooled with the help of "some important industry figures" under the assumption that "it might not be engaging people it needs to engage.")
At MOCA, which has 40 active trustees, new board members over the last two years include "Sex and the City" creator Darren Star, media magnate Peter Brant, Lauren King of KingWorld, Staples Center CEO Timothy Leiweke, Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk, and philanthropists Lilly Tartikoff Karatz and Jamie Tisch.
"I would say the majority of our trustees have, or have had, some connection to the entertainment industry," says MOCA director Deitch. "But what interests me most is not just trying to line up patrons in the film and music business but working on creative collaborations that cut across the fields."
Deitch notes that one area still sorely lacking is corporate sponsorship. "We would welcome more corporate support from big entertainment companies," he says. (Chanel is the sponsor of this year's gala.)
At the Hammer, which has a 22-member board of overseers, Philbin says her team is heavy on "behind-the-scenes types — not movie stars," surmising, "I'm sure it has something to do with going to meetings — you can't pin some people down."
Her longtime board members include Peter Benedek and Jeremy Zimmer, founders of United Talent Agency; Michael Rubel, general counsel of Creative Artists Agency; and George Freeman of William Morris Endeavor, with Bob Gersh of the Gersh Agency joining this year.
The number of agencies represented on her board is not lost on Philbin. "These people are in their hearts talent scouts, so it's not surprising they would be interested in contemporary art in the same way," she says.
Philbin also sees promise on the talent front, mentioning Tobey Maguire, Rachel Griffiths and Will Ferrell as genuine fans of contemporary art who also write checks for gala seats. Griffiths, who attended the Hammer gala this month with her husband, painter Andrew Taylor, says spending time with artists and collectors is part of the attraction.
"One reason I love going to MOCA and Hammer parties is that you don't have to listen to people from the industry whining about how boring L.A. is," Griffiths says. "The art community here feels very diverse and energetic."
Still, challenges remain for museums courting members of the entertainment industry. One is getting actors who aren't used to buying things to buy event tickets. With few exceptions, celebrities taking the $5,000 seats at museum galas are not paying their own way but coming as guests of more established arts patrons.
Last year, Jessica Alba was a guest at Miuccia Prada's table at MOCA. This year, LACMA trustee Casey Wasserman hosted at his table Kim Kardashian and her mother, Kris Jenner — "family friends," he says.
Perhaps the biggest thorn still stuck in the side of museum directors: Some of L.A.'s most prominent collectors from the industry, such as Michael Ovitz and David Geffen, are not affiliated with art museums in town. While Ovitz lives with his art in his new Michael Maltzan-designed museum-like home in Beverly Hills, he is a trustee at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and not a local museum for reasons he declined to discuss.
Nor is Geffen (who also declined to comment) currently affiliated with a local museum, despite a one-time $5-million gift to MOCA in 1996 that put his name on the Geffen Contemporary. Many believe it's Govan who, through LACMA trustee Lynda Resnick, has a shot at bringing Geffen into the fold as a donor.
Govan dismisses the idea that a gift of any sorts is in the works but acknowledges the importance of Geffen's collection. "Obviously, I think the world of David's collecting — he has a wonderful eye," he says. "I won't speak for David, but I'm sure part of it is that he wants to be involved with the highest quality museum. L.A. institutions are young and haven't reached their full growth potential yet."