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.
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.)
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.