Nearly 150 business and community leaders gathered Thursday at the historic El Rey Theatre for the Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce’s annual “State of the Mile” luncheon, this year featuring a panel discussion with senior staff from the five museums on the Miracle Mile, bookended by talks from City Council Member David Ryu and U.S. Representative Ted Lieu.
Ryu opened the event with remarks about the historic significance of the Miracle Mile, which is home to five major cultural institutions, all of which are dealing with the impacts of lengthy Metro Purple Line subway construction and other projects – such as the reinvention of the LA County Museum of Art and the new Academy of Motion Pictures Museum – that are transforming the area.
After the opening remarks, a panel of museum executives, moderated by Mark Panatier, Vice President of the A.F. Gilmore Company, which owns the Original Farmers’ Market, addressed two specific questions: how they’re dealing with the disruptions of the big construction projects, and what the “silver linings” are for them in the area’s transformation.
Panelists included John Rice, Marketing Director at LACMA; Katharine DeShaw, Deputy Director for Advancement and External Relations at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures; Suzanne Isken, Director of the Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM); Leslie Kendal, Curator of the Peterson Automotive Museum and Cynthia Wornham, Senior Vice President at the Natural History Museum’s La Brea Tar Pits.
Rice said LACMA is dealing with will all the big construction projects with “relentless” programming to attract visitors. That includes continuing the museum’s Friday evening Jazz programs, Latin Sounds concerts on Sundays in Hancock Park, the annual Dapper Day vintage clothing event (which will include a special marketplace this year), Muse Until Midnight events, and new exhibits on David Hockney and “3D Double Vision,” which open soon.
DeShaw said the Academy museum, currently under construction, is moving closer to its completion in 2019 with the painstaking restoration of more than 400,000 gold leaf tiles on the facade of the former May Co. building at the NE corner of Wilshire and Fairfax (it’s now called the Saban building to honor a $50 million donation from Cheryl and Haim Saban). The work is being done by the Italian company that produced the original tiles in 1939. De Shaw also said the new sphere-shaped structure at the rear of the complex will house a 1,000 seat theatre in what architect Renzo Piano called the “belly of the whale.” And above that will be an observation deck with a panoramic view of the Hollywood Hills and the city.
Isken said that for CAFAM, the major construction all around is a lot like being pregnant – inconvenient for the moment, but in the end will give birth to the improvements of new museums and a subway. Isken said that, like LACMA, CAFAM is also programming “relentlessly” during the disruptions, with a two-day maker fair and marketplace this weekend, and a big new “Bamboo” exhibit, in conjunction with the Japan Foundation, opening soon. She said the museum is also stressing customer service during this potentially stressful time, with pay-what-you-can days, validated parking discounts at nearby parking facilities, and a staff that easily gets to know regular visitors by name.
Kendall, who was part of the team that opened the Petersen in 1994, said that insitution is itself “a story of ongoing change,” and described how the museum building has evolved since it first opened as a Japanese department store in 1962. It later became an American department store (Orbach’s), then sat vacant for many years, then sported fins – reminiscent of classic mid-century car washes – in its first iteration as an automotive museum… before re-opening in 2015 with its current bright red and gray facade, “meant to evoke speek, motion and sensuality.” Kendall said the museum tells the story of Los Angeles and has a close connection to the current construction projects: “If it wasn’t for the automobile, we wouldn’t need the Purple Line.”
NHM’s Cynthia Wornham described recent improvements at the La Brea Tar Pits, the world’s only active ice age fossil site, which happens to be located in the middle of an urban area. Wornham explained how the current construction projects have actually been a boon for the museum, whose collection has grown significantly with the discovery of thousands of new fossils from the nearby digs. She said that while the “large sexy megafauna” like dire wolves and mammoths get most of the attention, much of the real value is in the more numerous small fossils being found, and those new discoveries are helping explain how our climate changed over the last 40,000 years, roughly the age of the fossils, and how it can help improve predictions for the future.
After the panel discussion, Congressman Lieu wrapped up the event with a talk addressing immigration, infrastructure and cyber security, three areas he is currently working on in Congress. Lieu said he hopes a resolution for DACA applicants will be reached soon, as well as progress on a $2 billion infrastructure bill he has proposed, though both are currently stalled. Finally, on the topic of information security, he related his experiences with a “60 Minutes” investigation that revealed just how much of his cell phone activity could be monitored by others, and urged audience members to take steps to protect their electronic business records and avoid using any public wi-fi unless it is a trusted provider.
[Buzz Co-Publisher Elizabeth Fuller also contributed to this story.]