The long awaited and oft delayed opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is on the move again, shuttling to early Fall of next year and all due to continuing uncertainties about the state of the coronavirus pandemic. The not-so-surprising move, due to the dire circumstances of living in a world wracked by Covid-19, means the Museum which had most recently been scheduled to open to the public on April 30, 2021, just a few days after the April 25th Academy Awards (which was itself forced to move to its latest Spring date ever due to the pandemic), will now open instead five months later on September 30, 2021, with the invitational gala re-scheduled for September 25. Because of the great unknown about the Covid crisis, which is now setting daily records in California and other states for positive tests and deaths, the Museum leadership felt it couldn’t roll the dice by keeping the late April date. Director and President Bill Kramer explained to me in a phone conversation yesterday the reasons for the change while noting that otherwise they were right on course.
“We are completely moving forward on a path to open in April, exhibition spaces are being built out, we are in great shape but obviously over the last month we have really been monitoring the pandemic because right now is the moment we would launch our marketing campaign, start selling tickets, hire over 100 new frontline staff,” he said. “With the pandemic still raging and museums still remaining closed in Los Angeles, and that’s not going to change anytime soon, plus the safer-at-home order, we feel like it would be irresponsible to continue to push out an April opening right now. So we’ve been tracking what Dr. Fauci has been saying about the vaccine and we’re feeling hopeful we can open in the early fall.” Kramer, who originally worked on the museum from 2012 to early 2016 before returning in October of 2019, adds the new date was chosen so as to avoid other industry events such as the Toronto and Venice film festivals, along with various holidays that fall right around then.
Ted Sarandos, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Academy Museum, said in a statement, “Despite the many challenges of 2020, the museum has accomplished a great deal this year: completing its pre-opening fundraising campaign, obtaining LEED Gold certification, and the installation of exceptional exhibitions. We are fortunate to have one of the world’s most exciting new cultural institutions ready to go. Now it’s just a matter of patience, for all of us, as we look ahead to opening our doors on September 30.”
The Museum, which has been a dream of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences virtually since it was founded over nine decades ago, was first announced in 2012 and since then has missed various targeted openings in 2017, 18, and 19. Tom Hanks made the big reveal of a December 14, 2020 debut during February’s Oscar show, meaning if the pandemic hadn’t changed those plans, it would have opened earlier this week. There was then excitement over combining the unveiling of the museum during the excitement of Oscar week, but again those plans have been foiled. Hopefully this date will stick.
“When we made the original move from September (2020) to April earlier this year, we thought great, we will line it up around the Oscars, thinking of course the pandemic will be in our rear view mirror at that point. Little did we know,” Kramer lamented. Otherwise, he told me it has actually been a terrific year in terms of progress toward its opening. “We’ve had a great year in spite of the pandemic. I am so blown away by how fantastic our museum team is, and how much great work has been done throughout this year in spite of the pandemic. It’s been remarkable. Opening exhibitions are fully curated and ready to go. We are building out those spaces right now. Our core exhibition, our co-curations with Spike Lee, Pedro Almodovar, Miyazaki. Certain objects have been installed including the Pixar Toy Story Zoetrope, and the massive Bruce The Shark model from the movie Jaws.”
To help keep the appetite wet for this movie-lover’s dream, the museum is trying to get innovative even without physically being able to put the welcome mat out quite yet. “We will be launching some great new virtual programming that we will be talking about in the next month or two. Starting with the Oscars and leading up to the opening, we want to keep excitement around the museum going. We’re building robust exhibitions and programs that we’re ready to bring to the world so we will tie the launch of that to Oscars week, but we cannot open in April at this point,” he said, noting these interim attractions include using spaces for special moments, virtual screenings and programs tied to their exhibitions and programs they are planning for their theatres, and also moments where the museum is bringing the objects and montages that the public will eventually be seeing in their galleries by first giving them exposure through virtual programming in the meantime.
Previously, as Sarandos indicated, it was announced the museum exceeded its original fundraising goal of $388 million, and now is continuing in a new phase of fundraising for programs, exhibitions, endowments, and educational initiatives. Kramer is excited about new hires in recent months listing several including Jacqueline Stewart, Chief Artistic and Programming Officer (effective January 2021); Gary Dauphin, Associate Curator, Digital Presentations; Jenny He, Exhibitions Curator; Shari Frilot, Guest Curator for New Technology and Expanded Cinema (her full time job is Chief Curator, New Frontier at Sundance and Senior Programmer for the Sundance Film Festival); Nathalie Morris, Collections Curator; and Kiva Reardon, Film Programmer.
Among some of the latest acquisitions are the May Queen Dress worn by Florence Pugh in Midsommar (reportedly selling for $65,000 in the recent A24 props auction), as well as a space suit from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kramer says they are getting great cooperation and enthusiasm in adding to their collections (which include those Ruby Red Slippers BTW) from members of the Academy themselves. “We have such excellent relationships with our Academy members. We have created task forces for every branch who have helped us envision content around their craft and branch areas. They are also helping us secure items for our collection including the costume designers branch which reached out, along with others. We get a lot of donations from Academy members and other collectors, and of course monitor auctions as well,” he said.
And now Fall 2021 is the target as the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures continues to wait for its closeup.