Dawn Hudson: New Academy Museum on Fast Track

AMPAS CEO says revived museum could open in three years in old May Company building owned by L.A. County Museum of Art

The new Academy museum could open in the old May Company building at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as soon as three years from now, Academy CEO Dawn Hudson told TheWrap on Wednesday.

Speaking the afternoon after AMPAS and LACMA announced an unprecedented alliance to bring the long-delayed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures to the landmark 70-year old building owned by the museum, Hudson said she's taking her schedule from LACMA CEO Michael Govan, who has presided over the opening of two new buildings in the last two years.

May Company buildingAlso read: Academy Museum Finds Home at LACMA

She also insisted that although funding dried up for a museum that the Academy had originally planned to build in Hollywood, donors are ready to contribute to this new effort.

"I'm going to use Michael's timeline and assume we can do this in three to five years," Hudson said. "We're on the fast track, and I expect that the generosity of the city and our community and leaders will get us moving soon."

Also read: 12 Burning Questions for the Oscars' New Dawn

The collaboration between AMPAS and LACMA, said Academy president Tom Sherak, began in the spring of 2010, when Academy governor (and past president) Sid Ganis ran into Govan when he went to the museum for a jazz concert.

"I knew about the Academy's plans to build a museum, and it always frustrated me that Los Angeles didn’t have a film museum," Govan told TheWrap. "I said to Sid, Isn’t there any way we can help? We have facilities, we have space – how can we help you realize your dream?"

Ganis introduced Govan to Sherak, who said he fell in love with the museum director's ideas. Casual discussions about a collaboration were held for the next year – and then, said Sherak, things heated up when he sat down over the summer with incoming CEO Hudson, who had known Govan for years and dealt with him when her former organization, Film Independent, was brought in to help run LACMA's troubled film series.  

"Dawn and I sat down and went over a list of things that were in the works here, and her eyes went straight to number three on the list," Sherak said. "She said, 'A museum at LACMA?'

"It was like an arrow into a bullseye, and from there we went to committees and started negotiating and trying to figure out what it is we would like."

Added Hudson: "I've known Michael for a long time, and I know he's a cinephile of the highest order, as well as an artophile, or whatever they call it.

"We accept film as a great art form, but it's taken some time for that idea to take hold in the minds of the public. And the idea of putting a film museum next to an extraordinary museum like LACMA puts it in the proper context, to me."

Added Govan, "Film is the great medium of our time. It needs more exposure, not less, in the context of art museums."

The LACMA CEO added that other ideas had been kicked around for the old May Company building, a landmark structure built in 1939 and acquired by the museum in 1993.

"We had ideas to use it for exhibition space and other things, but it seemed that you really needed a more historic and significant use for an important building," he said.

The resulting museum, said Sherak, will be completely planned and operated by the Academy, which will sign a long-term lease on the 300,000-square-foot space. Govan and his LACMA team will serve as "major" advisors to help the Academy get the project off the ground, but will be landlords rather than partners in the museum itself.

That museum, added Hudson, will be "a home for all that we do year round, and then some."

It will also house much of the Academy's existing collection, which rarely receives public display.

"We have 10 million movie stills, 40,000 gorgeous movie posters, 140,000 films and shorts and trailers … It's incredible what the Academy has, but most of it has not been easily accessible to the public. The museum will make it accessible."

LACMA, for its part, does not plan to stop holding its own film-related exhibits in deference to its new neighbor. It currently has a Tim Burton show, and plans to bring a Stanley Kubrick exhibit in next year.

"Film is something we've been doing all along," said Govan. "It is fully integrated into our vision of an encyclopedic museum, and it's a key to what we want to do in the future. We don’t plan to stop having film-related exhibits after the Academy museum opens."

Hudson laughed. "But ours will be better," she said.

old Academy museum siteThe Academy had been planning to locate its museum on a 3.5-acre plot of land on Vine Street in Hollywood; that property, which sits just north of the Academy's Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study, was purchased by AMPAS for close to $50 million in 2005, before fundraising efforts were torpedoed by the economic collapse of 2008.

That land (right) has been sitting unused and unkempt in recent years – but Sherak insisted that acquiring the new museum site does not mean that AMPAS will abandon the old one.

"We are going to do some Academy things there," Sherak insisted on Wednesday. "We've authorized a good deal of money, and started to raze some of the buildings. I joke that my gardener needs to go over there and tell us how much grass we need."

His dream, he added, is to build an outdoor theater on the land – though that will likely have to wait until the museum is completed.