The Getty has become an important visual touchstone of Los Angeles from its perch on a ridgeline of the Santa Monica Mountains, overlooking the Westside where the San Diego Freeway rolls down out of the hills.
The sheer travertine walls and the promise of a world-class art experience beckon to the whole city. And the views are pretty nice too. The office towers of downtown at the far end of Wilshire. The Pacific bending across the horizon to the west. The fragrant chapparal of the mountains behind.
Taking in that view or enjoying any of the Getty’s many splendors is going to cost most of you more starting on July 1.
Yes, what used to be called, fairly or not, the world’s richest art museum is going through money troubles.
Staff layoffs that penetrate deeply into the Getty’s culture were announced this week. The museum itself will lose 25% of its budget and scale back exhibitions, according to the New York Times.
The Getty Conservation Institute has to shut down several projects, the Getty Foundation will make fewer grants and the Getty Research Institute will reduce library hours and cut back on the cool and important endeavors it’s known for.
The problem, as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have reported, is that the Getty doesn’t raise money like other museums. It has run off the return from its endowment.
And these days, everybody’s portfolio is in the tank.
For many visitors, the most immediate impact will be felt at the bottom of the hill, before they even get close to the art or the stunning views.
Parking at the Getty is going up to $15, which is almost double the $8 fee in effect until a year or so ago.
Even by Brentwood standards, 15 bucks is a lot. It’s the same as it costs you to park at Dodger Stadium, and you know how the McCourts are notorious for gouging their loyal fans.
Maybe it’s not so onerous if you’re packing the car with the whole family and making a day of it in the Getty gardens and galleries. After all, entry to the museum itself is still free.
But the Getty was supposed to be more than solely a rare, elite art experience.
When the museum was built on a rampart, instead of down in the city, the story was that even though it resembled a lord’s castle the drawbridge over the moat would always be open.
Anyone was welcome to come up and enjoy the view. Or hang out on the gorgeous plazas. Have a drink. Now it will cost you fifteen dollars to come up and take a look around.
There’s bus service along Sepulveda Boulevard that will appeal to some. But if your 75-year-old grandmother lives at Lassen and Winnetka and can’t walk very well….and you live in Glendale… picking her up on the bus for lunch at the Getty isn’t very appealing.
And if you’re coming Wilmington or Sierra Madre, well, you’re just not likely to subject yourself to the MTA.
So the Getty recedes further from the civic and cultural life of Los Angeles.
John Paul Getty said long ago that it was his intent that the collections should be completely open to the public – “free of all charges—be they for admission or even for parking automobiles.”
Sadly that ideal will be farther away now than ever. The Getty is a great, must-see LA institution. But many visitors are going to have to skip it now that the de facto admission charge is so high.
And that’s a loss for all of us.
For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.