How Will California’s Arts Institutions Recover?

Thursday: A conversation about major cultural institutions and philanthropy in the aftermath of the pandemic.


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The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, a futuristic $1 billion building being financed by George Lucas, is under construction in Los Angeles’s Exposition Park.Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times

Good morning.

As California emerges from the pandemic, we’re beginning to get hints of the ways life will be different — permanently.

Arts institutions of all shapes and sizes are in particular flux right now as they contend with the collision of long-brewing funding challenges and lingering effects of prolonged shutdowns.

My colleague Adam Nagourney, who recently started a new beat covering West Coast cultural affairs, wrote about how that’s playing out in Los Angeles, especially after the death last month of Eli Broad, the towering philanthropist who, before his retirement three years ago, had done so much to shape the arts landscape.

I asked Adam about his new role and about the article. Here’s our conversation:

Tell us a little about your new beat. What will you be covering?

I am going to be covering West Coast cultural affairs. It’s a fairly broad assignment; I’ll be writing about the arts and music scene, how central it is to the culture and civic life of Los Angeles and the state, and how it influences the country.

Part of that will be examining the arts in the context of philanthropy, politics and civic culture. The beat covers the West beyond Los Angeles, so it will include San Francisco, Washington State, as well as Nevada and Arizona. (Did I mention Hawaii? Consider it mentioned.)

You were most recently the Los Angeles bureau chief for eight years. What did you learn about California or L.A. that you’re hoping to carry forward into your new job?

I came into the job with the goal of not falling into the trap of writing about all these Southern California stereotypes: you know, L.A. as this sun-dappled land of shallow people who don’t read books, could care less about politics and spend way too much time in cars. (Well, there may be some truth to that last one.)

My years here just underlined to me how that is not true. This is a vastly complex part of the country — culturally and intellectually vibrant, politically engaged and adventurous. One of the points in the story is that L.A. is now recognized as a global cultural capital. The question now is how will it confront the challenge of the pandemic as it starts to rebuild.


The next chapter for Los Angeles’s arts institutions will unfold without Eli Broad, a philanthropist who transformed the city’s cultural landscape and died last month. He is shown here in 2015 outside the Broad, a museum he financed to display his art collection.Credit…Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

Your latest piece explores the status of some of L.A.’s biggest cultural institutions as they emerge from the pandemic. What will you be watching most closely in the recovery?

I’ll be watching three things.

1. Attendance: Will people feel safe enough to go out? The Hollywood Bowl announced this week that it is starting shows again. There were long virtual lines for tickets, but we’ll see how that is going forward. The real question here — and in other cities, like New York — is, will people be willing to go to indoor spaces, from Disney Hall to the L.A. Opera to any one of 50 small theaters scattered around area? We won’t know until the fall. The numbers here — Covid transmission, hospitalization and deaths — are way down, while vaccinations are up, so that’s encouraging.

2. Money: Arts institutions are struggling, and in fact were scrapping for dollars even before. There is a lot of competition for philanthropic dollars coming out of this pandemic.

3. Transit: A critical question is the success of the $120 billion program to build and expand the mass transit system here. Traffic has increasingly been one of the biggest obstacles to getting people to concert and theater halls, particularly in downtown Los Angeles. That could really change when these new lines begin opening up. Case in point: A new metro stop is opening across the street from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, coinciding with the date that the new $650 million David Geffen Galleries are scheduled to open.

And, of course, Eli Broad, whom you described as “part billionaire philanthropist, part civic bulldozer,” recently died, leaving big shoes to fill. But as you and others have noted, there are questions about whether that mode of arts patronage by a singular kingmaker is good for the Los Angeles of the future. So what might be next?

This is a key and nuanced question: Not only, “Is there another Eli Broad waiting in the wings?” but more, “Is that the future of fund-raising here? Does this region need — or want — that kind of powerful figure moving forward?”

I think a corollary of that is whether some of the new wealth in California — tech money, to use the shorthand — is going to start flowing into the arts. It really hasn’t happened yet in a big way in L.A., but that could sure change given what’s happened with the stock market since January. You could find a cast of new characters writing checks, rather than some single domineering figure.

For more:

Read the full story about Los Angeles’s soaring arts scene.

Read Eli Broad’s obituary from late last month.

If you missed it, read about how Los Angeles’s museums weathered nearly a year of being completely shut down.

And see how the de Young Museum in San Francisco used the restrictions as inspiration to try something new.

Here’s what else to know today


Legislators in California negotiated compromise language for a bill on weeding out police extremism with police unions in Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco.Credit…Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

Compiled by Jonathan Wolfe

California and other states are seeking to give law enforcement agencies more power to weed out officers with ties to extremist groups, but the idea is meeting resistance.

Kevin Faulconer, a Republican candidate for governor, pitched his tax cut plan that included eliminating California’s state income tax for individuals making up to $50,000 and households up to $100,000, The Associated Press reports.

Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed transitional kindergarten for all 4-year-olds in the state as part of his sweeping plan to spend billions of dollars on education, homelessness, pandemic aid and more, The Los Angeles Times reports.

A new state audit says that Calbright College is failing to live up to its ideals of being the state’s public alternative to for-profit colleges, and recommends closing the school unless it improves, CalMatters reports.

The Blackstone Group plans to purchase 66 residential complexes in San Diego County for more than $1 billion, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

A man seen traveling in the back seat of a driverless Tesla was arrested in the Bay Area.


The Big Row, between Cal and Stanford, took place in the Oakland Estuary in April.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

As the school year at the University of California, Berkeley, draws to a close, something fresh hangs in the air for the school’s athletics department: optimism.

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Psilocybin and MDMA are poised to be the hottest new therapeutics since Prozac, but some worry a push to loosen access could bring unintended consequences.

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And finally …


Men attended socially distanced Friday afternoon prayers at King Fahad Mosque in Culver City on April 9.Credit…Sarah Reingewirtz/Los Angeles Daily News, SCNG

We wish you and your family a happy, healthy Eid al-Fitr this week, if you observe. We hope you’ll be able to gather safelyand feast properly — with loved ones, in person. But if that’s not possible, we hope you’re able to celebrate and find comfort however you can.

California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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