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The People Who Won’t Let George Lucas Build A Narrative Art Museum Are Idiots

Back in 2013, we reported on George Lucas’ incredible idea to build a museum, America’s first actually, that would be entirely dedicated to illustration, comics, film, and animation, from Herriman and Rockwell to Crumb and the Fleischers.

Lucas, who became a multi-billionaire after the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney, has pledged to fund the entire thing himself, from the construction costs to the museum endowment to the value of the collection, which would run about $1.5 billion in total. Here is a preview of some of the gorgeous artwork that would be seen in the museum. It’s an offer that any city would be insane to refuse, but as this frustrating Businessweek piece explains, both San Francisco and Chicago have thus far rejected him.

The reasons for turning down Lucas’ idea are almost entirely arbitrary. In San Francisco, they complained that the museum design was too old-fashioned, so when Lucas proposed a modern building in Chicago, Chicagoans complained that it looked too modern. In San Francisco, the federally-operated Presidio Trust came up with a rule that the museum couldn’t be taller than 45 feet, while in Chicago, a citizens’ group took Lucas to federal court complaining that if he built a museum on the city’s lakeshore, Oprah might want one too.

Now renamed the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Lucas is still negotiating with both San Francisco and Los Angeles. In San Francisco, the museum would be located on the inconvenient Treasure Island (proposed design at top), while in Los Angeles, it would be more centrally located in Exposition Park. A decision by Lucas on the Treasure Island site is expected this month, according to recent reports.

Proposed design for the Lucas museum in Los Angeles' Exposition Park.
Proposed design for the Lucas museum in Los Angeles’ Exposition Park.

Which brings me to this point: Lucas’s difficulties getting the project off the ground have as much to do with the concept for his museum as anything. The same struggle that Lucas is going through right now is what animation has to deal with on a daily basis: the lack of recognition as a legitimate art form.

Lucas would have almost certainly not encountered such problems if he was creating a museum that clung to the highfalutin capital-A definition of Art. In the American paradigm of creative expression, painting, opera, theater, and classical music are legitimate. Illustration, comics, film, animation, and videogames are not. (We can debate the reasons another time, but a key factor has to be the near-elimination of all public arts funding in the U.S., which has resulted in a populace ill-equipped to view popular art as anything but entertainment.)

Example of artwork by Helen Mary Jacobs (left) and Arthur Rackham that would be part of the museum.
Example of artwork by Helen Mary Jacobs (left) and Arthur Rackham that would be part of the museum.

Bringing art and culture to a city, at no cost to the city, is about as no-brainer as you can get. If someone wants to spend one-and-a-half billion dollars of their own money to educate people about art, you damn well better have a good reason for saying no. The Businessweek piece linked above attempts to lay out the cons of the museum, but not a single argument against it is even remotely convincing.

And if you don’t want to feel bad for a mega-billionaire like George Lucas, at least feel bad for yourself. Feel bad that you can’t be enlightened about new forms of art and culture. And feel bad for all the amazing artists whose work remains obscured because of stupid, awful people who stand in the way.

Example of artwork by Frank Frazetta (left) and Robert Crumb that would be part of the museum.
Example of artwork by Frank Frazetta (left) and Robert Crumb that would be part of the museum.
  • Probably too late in the process to bring this up, but I totally wouldn’t mind if by some chance this museum ended up in New York ;)

  • Axolotl

    I am all for this! But only if it includes those rowers.

  • HalSolo

    I feel like this is less about the museum and more about people getting back at him for STAR WARS Episodes 1-3. I still hold those against Lucas.

    • ValjeanLafitte

      But enough to stand in his way of building an animation museum? Good grief, the Star Wars fandom is the worst. They’re just movies. Whatever you thought of the prequels, he had every right to make them that way.

      • Matthew

        Just because he had the right to did not put him under any obligation to exercise that right.

  • Marc Hendry

    I’m not a huge Star Wars guy, but I have a lot of respect for Lucas doing this. The implication in that Businessweek article that he was doing it for his own ego’s sake is nuts. Even if he WAS, it’s still a brilliant thing to do. I hope the money is there to keep the place open for decades, centuries, etc. (if it ever does find a place!)

  • HalSolo

    Ok, upon reading the Businessweek article and interviews Lucas comes off a bit petulant and spoiled. Doesn’t feel as one-sided as this post makes it seem. In fact, its a rather fascinating insight into the dynamics of building these kind of projects in public spaces, especially when the political dynamics at work shift. Lucas doesn’t come off as a “catch more flies with honey” kinda guy.
    Besides, I can see the logic in the Treasure Island location benefiting the surrounding area more than the Presidio – it has a great view of the city that will encourage visitors to go just to sight-see and it will increase the value of the surrounding community. This museum could be a Bay Area equivalent of the TATE in London (which has one of the best views of the London skyline) or the ICA in Boston.
    That said, I think the LA option would just KILL and continue the expansion of DTLA as a premiere area. Seems like this will happen and be a win however it pans out, but I think the debate is more intricate than simply “the artwork on display is too populist.”

  • Chicken McPhee

    Narrative art is important and I’m glad to see Lucas try push through this. The man who launched a thousand ships.

    • Matthew

      Like TITANIC?

  • torstenadair

    Most of the criticism with the museum is not with Lucas or the contents, but with the design and locations.
    Chicago complained about “Jabba’s barge”, and the bigger concern about grabbing lakefront property. (He could have easily moved it a block west, over the railroad.)

    The popular arts are popular. The Smithsonian hosted a Star Wars exhibit, MoMA had success with Pixar, and even the Guggenheim hosted a travelling exhibition of Rockwell’s art. Both MoMA and the Guggenheim (and the Whitney) are engaged in exploring new expressions of Art. (MoMA hosted a retrospective of Yoko Ono in 2015.) The public will come.

    Illustration? Yeah… that’s not as studied or collected, but then, many functional arts like architecture, industrial design, and illustration routinely aren’t. That’s why there are specialized museums and libraries which do feature animation, video games, quilts, cartooning, Rock and Roll, and other categories.

    Myself, I prefer the USC locale. Treasure Island is remote, and I’d really not place an art museum that close to the water, on landfill, in an earthquake zone.

  • Michael Howe

    “And if you don’t want to feel bad for a mega-billionaire like George
    Lucas, at least feel bad for yourself. Feel bad that you can’t be
    enlightened about new forms of art and culture. And feel bad for all the
    amazing artists whose work remains obscured because of stupid, awful
    people who stand in the way.”

    Ohhh, you just brought me to life on this whole thing!

    Being here in Chicago, I was all-in for this thing. I knew it wasn’t going to be as simple as “A Star Wars Museum,” as the most mundane of thinkers around here labeled it as. To me, it was offering kids in Chicago, something that my child-self in Iowa could only dream of: a museum that could give a view into art (and Lucas’ own anthropological love!), that was a little different, and who knows…could have given us some filmmakers and artisans that most likely, will never get to experience what California will get…which happens to be almost everything!

    To keep from filling this post with 50 paragraphs, here are links to my blog posts about what I observed during the 2 years Lucas attempted to get his Museum put in the Windy City:

    The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art – a rant following the aftermath of its Chicagoland death – http://wp.me/p1Zr1c-4eh

    Along with the aftermath of it all:

    The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art – Back to California…but where? – http://wp.me/p1Zr1c-539

    Of course, the local non-for-profit group Friends of the Parks, just loved playing their card about Lucas being an evil billionaire from California, wanting to destroy parkland for an ego project. Course, when the Obama Library said they might use some park land, FOTP just wagged a finger and said, ‘we wouldn’t do that,’ but wouldn’t dare enact a lawsuit against Chicago’s hometown hero.

    Of course, FOTP surely knew that turning away a billionaire, and welcoming a President to the city, would make them look like upstanding citizens, and get them plenty of those much-needed ‘charitable donations.’ I for one, will never donate to them because of how they acted.

    Even looking for tweets from Chicago is pretty obtuse, as most still see the whole thing as a waste of time and effort. Guess I’m just too weird for the Midwest, as I intend to visit the museum once it finds it’s home out west…just like The Charles Schulz Museum, The Cartoon Art museum, and many more things that always make me feel California is just the place to be for the more open-minded.

    • dgulbran

      Chicago here, too. I wanted Lucas to build it here, too, and I do think FOTP could have ratchted down the rhetoric. However, there are easily a half-dozen sites that would have been great, brought the museum to the city *and* much needed development to different areas. But Lucas wouldn’t give up on having it by the lake. That’s on him, not us.

  • dgulbran

    The reasons you’ve cited for Chicago not being home to Lucas’s museum are dead wrong. The people of Chicago would have been happy to host the museum, just not at the location Lucas wanted.

    There is a *long* standing tradition–and laws–in Chicago protecting the lake front from too much development. In general (yes, there have been some exceptions–all of them extremely controversial) the lakefront is to be protected for the enjoyment of *all* the people of Chicago, as parks. The group that sued Lucas didn’t oppose the museum, they opposed the location. In fact, they *and* the city tried to work with Lucas to find alternate locations, a couple of which were in areas of the city that *badly* need investment and something like Lucas’s museum could have been a great boon to the city, the neighborhood and people who desperately need economic development. Lucas wasn’t interested.

    Being unwilling to compromise with the citizens of the city where you want to build your project is not “being rejected”. It’s being a pompous ass who thinks they know better than the people who *live* in the city you want to build something where it should be located. I would have loved to have the museum in Chicago, as would many, many Chicagoans. But if the Lucas attitude is “my way or the highway” well, the on-ramp’s right there, buddy.

    • AmidAmidi

      The proposed site in Chicago you are talking about is a parking lot, and its primary function is to serve as a staging ground for wasted Bears fans on gamedays. The site next to the museum is also a parking lot. If the city of Chicago’s mission was to preserve the lakefront for all people, then they’re blistering morons for turning their lakefront into a giant parking lot, as well as a sports stadium that is financially inaccessible to the majority of the city’s population.

      If you look at Lucas’ plan, it would have actually preserved the lakefront by creating a beautiful public promenade in front of the museum, something which is currently not possible because, again, it’s a parking lot.

      • dgulbran

        No, the site you are talking about (the McCormick Place site) was an *alternate* site, proposed by the mayor–it was not the original site. I drive by it on my way to work almost everyday.

        Secondly, the citizens of Chicago *don’t* want a parking lot there, we want it restored to park. The building of McCormick Place itself was controversial when it happened, and is another example of wealth influencing development against the will of the people.

        There’s a nearly perfect site, not far from either the original proposed site or the alternate, on the grounds of the old Michael Reese hospital. It had at one time been proposed to house the Olympic Village (back when Daley wanted that). It is in need of redevelopment, close to the other sites, and would have been a real boon to the city. There are many other places, as well, that would have *really* benefited from a project like this, and I personally, would have loved to see the museum come to Chicago. However, Lucas was absolutely unwilling to compromise unless he got a shining jewel on the lake.

    • KW

      You’ve pretty much said everything I was going to say. I dont know the specifics as to why the Bears stadium is allowed on the lake front. As a Chicagoan I would have rather seen the Lucas museum go up than the Bears stadium be there at all, but I also think the zoning laws for the lakefront are important. So just because the Bears have a stadium there doesnt mean other developments should be allowed.

      And again like you’ve said the museum could have brought desperately needed economic boosts to the more impoverished areas of the city that are often ignored.

  • This sounds like an amazing idea, it’s a shame that most people don’t take animation seriously enough.

  • Troy

    Quite frankly I’m more interested to know where the discussion of the suppose debate reasons is going to be at. In regards to this article, besides recognition, I’m more inclined to point the finger at the issue of the community relations with the animation industry as a whole than specific cities.

  • vincecollins

    San Francisco had already turned down free internet for the city from Google, so there was a precedent for turning down fantastic offers. The reason for rejection of the museum was that the Lucas museum design was not a fit for the Presidio, where it would be located. But in fact the Presidio architecture consists of WWII military and the ILM 12 building complex which LUCAS already had built with style perfect for that setting.

    The free internet ended up in Kansas — I bet they’d take the museum, too…….

  • About this…

    If only George Lucas would build this in my city. Sadly, it’s never gonna happen…

  • dgulbran

    Well, originally he was! The McCormick place site, which was Rahm’s proposed alternative, was not his first location choice.

    Personally, I think the Michael Reese site would have been perfect. And MSI *isn’t* that far away–I drive down LSD everyday for work. And many, many people make it down the MSI all the time, too. The point being, there *were* many alternative sites but Lucas was unwilling to compromise on anything that wasn’t Lakeside.

    • Michael Howe

      But that’s just it.

      Keeping it on the east side of the drive, kept it within simple walking distance to the nearby Field, Adler, and Shedd buildings on the campus.

      I feel he really was trying to go for a more cohesive whole, and add to the area, but many didn’t see it that way. Then again, my brain tends to look at things from outside the box of the average person. I mean, I didn’t love the organic architecture, but given what I was able to glean after reading about MAD Architects’ other projects, it’s design almost looked like the wind and water coming off the lake had somehow carved into it, almost like wind and water carving into other natural structures. I sometimes think if Lucas had decided to give his museum design a mirror finish like Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”), the average joe would have been ok with it.

      Though word now is, a little while ago, that Lucas has chosen the Exposition Park ‘Museum Campus’ to place his museum there. Though one hopes there isn’t another headstrong group of supporters in the LA community wanting to reclaim that parking lot on the southwest tip of the park where he wishes to build his place.

      I almost expected him to choose San Francisco, but I guess maybe the thought of his museum being isolated out on Treasure Island would probably make it seem like a long schlep to get to, along with all that added funding for water taxi services and added infrastructure improvements.

  • KW

    No offense but most people dont want to visit in Houston, its not a vacation city. All cities proposed have large tourist draws already and while a Lucas Museum would no doubt bring some people to Houston for the sole purpose of going to that museum, most wouldnt make a trip like that.

  • GrizzlyAdams

    Most tied into the business that he sold, giving him cash flow in the billions

  • Elsi Pote

    You want people fighting for George Lucas museum business right?

    Just say you will build it in Canada, England, Dubai, Japan, Korea or France and all the developer mafias behind all the standoffs at the aforementioned cities will start making concessions.

    That’s right my friends, it’s the developers (not cities) fighting off Lucas.

    Every water front in every city is a mafia stronghold managed and exploited by your local band of crooners that will bend facts and laws at their hearts content.

  • Chris

    Chicago said no to George Lucas taking away a public park to build a private museum. I would hardly consider that an act of idiocy.

  • Mister Twister

    Good one, Amid. As someone who thinks that Stand Still Stay SIlent and Sigfried are better pieces of modern art than the crap in most modern museums, it hurts to see idiots stand between the works and the people.

  • otterhead