Wednesday, November 3, 2010

a study in contrasts

I attended my first staff meeting at LACMA this week. What a crazy place! I'd just come from checking out some leaks in the ceiling of our special exhibition spaces (!), and Michael G. came up to me directly to ask how I was settling in. That's awfully nice of him! I told him where I'd been, and he said, that's why we call it "leak-ma," as he stuffed a cookie in his mouth.

The meeting itself was in the glamorous Bing auditorium, and started with all the lights going dark, and the crowd cheering. The screen was then illuminated with the zingy, albeit somewhat cheesy, new 3D promo spot for the museum that will be playing in theaters across Los Angeles soon. Morgan Freeman narrates. This was followed by a hilarious animation of the Resnicks and their art collection getting ready for installation for the big opening of the new exhibition pavilion. You'd think we were in Hollywood or something.

Then Michael & Melody (2nd in command) took the stage and energetically thanked the staff for all their hard work recently, informed us that there would be a merit increase this year, and no health insurance increase (in contrast to many similar museums, including the Getty), and said that overall we are in excellent shape financially. MG confirmed that he's renewed his contract for another 6 years, and conceded that yes, there are some issues and challenges ahead, but LACMA has a bright and exciting future. Yay! Plus, there were 41 new staff members introduced. That's gotta be almost 25% of the total staff. That explains a lot right there -- both the energy and the chaos!

Walking out with another Getty alum, we marveled at what a contrast this was to Getty staff meetings, which were mostly doom and gloom. The air was always heavy when our director somberly took the stage to tell us that there would be layoffs, there wouldn't be merit increases yet again, health insurance costs would be higher next year, our multi-billion-dollar endowment was in trouble, and ultimately, that he was resigning. We'd leave each meeting feeling disgruntled and demoralized. Sure LACMA may be flying a bit by the seat of its pants, a bit willy nilly, a bit wackadoo, but most people are happy, the institution is ambitiously moving forward while hiring new staff and paying them well, and we have a director who is both empowered and present. Freaky!

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