The 32-metre-long escalator tube isn’t finished yet and the museum’s intricate outer shell is still being assembled, but when Joanne Heyler walks out on to the top floor of The Broad, a contemporary art museum set to open in downtown Los Angeles next year, she can’t resist smiling.
“It never fails to take my breath away,” said Heyler, The Broad’s founding director.
The Broad, sharing the Grand Avenue block with the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art (Moca) and Frank Gehry’s shimmering Walt Disney Concert Hall, is not just a $140m building. It’s at the core of a cultural boom in a place once famous for training artists – and then sending them off to New York to build careers. Long the centre of the movie industry, the region is now becoming a magnet for artists, dancers, musicians and museum leaders.
“We used to always be the wild stepchild out in the desert,” said acclaimed abstract artist Mark Bradford, a Los Angeles native. “Now, we’re being adopted. We’re seeing people coming here to build much larger, bigger galleries and private museums. Things you used to only see in the east.”
About 12km west of The Broad (pronounced “brode”), the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is raising $300m as part of a plan to open a movie museum in 2017 on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (Lacma) campus. Big donors for that project include music mogul David Geffen and director Steven Spielberg.
Earlier this year, the museum lured Kerry Brougher, the chief curator of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, to be its director. Lacma has a grand plan of its own, a $650m redesign of its campus that would stretch over Wilshire Boulevard.
And Hauser & Wirth, the contemporary art powerhouse in London, Zurich and New York, is hanging up a shingle in Los Angeles.
“People used to complain that people went to New York to buy what they could buy in LA,” said Kathy Halbreich, the associate director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “I don’t think that happens anymore. I think there’s a recognition that the city matters, that the people aren’t just there for the weather. You see a level of ambition that’s been ratcheted up.”