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How Will California’s Arts Institutions Recover?

I’ll be watching three things.

1. Attendance: Will people feel safe enough to go out? The Hollywood Bowl announced this week that it is starting shows again. There were long virtual lines for tickets, but we’ll see how that is going forward. The real question here — and in other cities, like New York — is, will people be willing to go to indoor spaces, from Disney Hall to the L.A. Opera to any one of 50 small theaters scattered around area? We won’t know until the fall. The numbers here — Covid transmission, hospitalization and deaths — are way down, while vaccinations are up, so that’s encouraging.

2. Money: Arts institutions are struggling, and in fact were scrapping for dollars even before. There is a lot of competition for philanthropic dollars coming out of this pandemic.

3. Transit: A critical question is the success of the $120 billion program to build and expand the mass transit system here. Traffic has increasingly been one of the biggest obstacles to getting people to concert and theater halls, particularly in downtown Los Angeles. That could really change when these new lines begin opening up. Case in point: A new metro stop is opening across the street from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, coinciding with the date that the new $650 million David Geffen Galleries are scheduled to open.

And, of course, Eli Broad, whom you described as “part billionaire philanthropist, part civic bulldozer,” recently died, leaving big shoes to fill. But as you and others have noted, there are questions about whether that mode of arts patronage by a singular kingmaker is good for the Los Angeles of the future. So what might be next?

This is a key and nuanced question: Not only, “Is there another Eli Broad waiting in the wings?” but more, “Is that the future of fund-raising here? Does this region need — or want — that kind of powerful figure moving forward?”

I think a corollary of that is whether some of the new wealth in California — tech money, to use the shorthand — is going to start flowing into the arts. It really hasn’t happened yet in a big way in L.A., but that could sure change given what’s happened with the stock market since January. You could find a cast of new characters writing checks, rather than some single domineering figure.

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