What's with these gangstery tactics in museum fund-raising lately? Last June, a Long Beach councilman intimated they might have sell off the Long Beach Museum of Art's collection — unless the museum raised $3 million. That followed threats earlier this year of shuttering Florida's struggling John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art — unless the money came in. Even Brandeis' University's plan to nuke the Rose Art Museum was seen, in more paranoid circles, as a veiled pledge drive. Now Michael Govan, who set off a tsunami of protest by downsizing LACMA's film program, says the program can be saved, after all. It'll cost $5 million. No, make that $10 million.
Govan's ransom note may be working. He says he'll be meeting with likely donors next week. The ultimatums in Long Beach and Sarasota don't seem to have raked in much cash (and had something to do with the surprise resignation of Ringling director John Wetenhall).
There's some funny math going on. LACMA's film program, it's said, has lost $1 million over the past decade. That's a mere $100,000 a year. An endowment of $2.5 million could generate that at a 4 percent withdrawal rate. Is Govan planning on reviving the program he just axed and quadrupling its budget? That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. But the first rule of museum fund-raising is that what donors are willing to give often has little to do with what museums need, and vice-versa.