Offering directors rent- and tax-free housing is nothing new for museums, but the practice has recently come under fire by activists protesting the jarring pay inequities rampant in the art world. Now, facing pandemic-induced financial shortfalls, it seems that LACMA is ending that benefit entirely.
Shortly after purchasing a $2.2 million Spanish-style home for director Michael Govan as a lavish perk, the museum has already put it up for sale. It comes less than one year after LACMA downsized his residence for the first time—he previously lived in a $6.6 million Tudor-style home in Hancock Park. The museum provided few details about the sale. “Due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic, the museum is selling the director’s residence to realize these proceeds,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. “The director will no longer live in housing owned by the museum.”
While it remains unclear how LACMA will allocate these funds, the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on cultural institutions citywide. Los Angeles remains the largest U.S. city where museums have yet to reopen even temporarily since the pandemic first broke out, and prolonged closures are costing museums millions of dollars daily in lost revenue.
Govan recently told the New York Times that he was puzzled by inconsistencies surrounding the government-mandated shutdown. LACMA’s store was allowed to stay open because it technically qualifies as commerce; ditto for art galleries. “We could be part of the solution,” he said, noting that museums provide a public service. The closures don’t augur well for the city’s cultural sphere, whose pre-pandemic influx of artists, galleries, museums, and fairs led some to pronounce it as the art world’s new creative hub.
LACMA, which is currently undergoing a controversial $750 million expansion by Peter Zumthor, may be particularly prone to financial shortfalls. A recent report shows that admission revenue plummeted 50 percent this year, and that the museum took out a $6.7 million loan under the federal Paycheck Protection Program to cover payroll costs during quarantine. If this real estate listing is any indication, the pandemic may have sounded the death knell for overly generous perks often bestowed upon the top brass at art museums.