A year has already jetted by for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. September 30, 2021—the date when the Academy Museum’s doors opened to the public. Since then, the museum has sold more than 700,000 tickets, presented 535 individual film screenings, and hosted 137 education and public programs, many of which featured notable film artists. The Museum saw a sizable influx of an under-40 demographics which comprised half of the museum’s visitors. Also notably, half identified as belonging to underrepresented ethic and racial communities.
I had the opportunity to talk to Jacqueline Stewart, director and president of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, in an inspired and insightful conversation.
Congrats, the museum has accomplished so much in just one year! How does this feel and what has the journey so far been for you?
Jacqueline Stewart: The primary feeling, at the core, is pride because we have such an extraordinary team at the Museum. This could only have been accomplished because we have so many talented and committed people in every area of museum work. You’ve seen the exhibitions, and that of course is not only the result of our brilliant curatorial team but also our exhibition design team, and our conservators. We have sold 700,000 tickets in our first year—that speaks volumes to our visitor experience and marketing team. Our retail store has been doing so well. The fact that the museum has been so successful in connecting with visitors is just a testament to how hard the museum has been working to make sure it really connects with people.
Los Angeles has such diverse cultures with so many communities living and thriving in the city. What does this mean to you?
JS: When we conducted our research, we found that half of the Academy Museum’s visitors were from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. Again, we felt we were doing something right in our museum. It’s really important to remember what kind of museum we are—a film museum. Cinema has an appeal to people that can draw audiences that are more diverse, more than other types of museums. We are a brand-new museum, so we can see across the field how older museums have really been trying to figure out how they can be more inclusive in ways to reach out to L.A.’s diverse population—they had to kind of go back and re-tool themselves. We had the opportunity to open with this mandate, and to think very carefully how our collections, how our exhibitions are reflective of the diversity of the global community. I think that matters to people. So as you’ve seen, when you walk through our galleries, it’s not just that we have exhibitions that focus on particular groups—it’s across the board. We have hair and make-up design, costume design, production design, casting. We have always, along with the Academy branches that cover every area of filmmaking, expressed the commitment of really reflecting the diversity of these fields.
Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971 has been an important milestone in the Academy Museum’s programming. You are further expanding on the Regeneration experience. Tell us more about it.
JS: I can’t say enough about our Regeneration exhibition. It is such a powerful and comprehensive look at the work of Black film artists going all the way back to the dawn of cinema. It is also an exhibition for us that has many different facets. We have multiple film series that we are doing. We will be hosting a Regeneration Summit in early February of 2023 where we are going to bring together artists and scholars, students and activists to talk about the legacy of those filmmakers and the meaning of their films today, and for the future. In fact, as part of Regeneration, the Academy Museum will present a Dorothy Dandridge and Ruby Dee film series from November 3–25, next month, showcasing these two groundbreaking African American actors—born in the same year a century ago—whose artistry and activism continue to inspire filmmakers and performers today.
Regeneration will also be our first traveling exhibition; it’s going to the Detroit Institute of Arts after it closes at our Museum. We are exploring that the exhibition will travel to other locations as well. That’s the model we want to follow going forward—that our exhibitions have all of these ways of expanding.
What are the future goals of the Academy Museum for 2023?
JS: We really want to think carefully about the experiences that particular groups have in our museum. It’s a major priority to us to make sure that there is a welcoming and an enjoyable space for LA’s LatinX families. We have been thinking a lot about ways that we can expand our Spanish-language offerings at the museum, so that’s an important goal for us over the next year. We want to be a space that is fun for families as well. Families visiting the museum have different needs than when you come as a grown-up individual; we want it to be a space where members of a whole family can feel that they can have an enlightening and inter-generational experience. Another big goal we have is to think deeply how to make all of our spaces accessible. It’s always been incredibly important to us to have open captioning of our montages, induction loops for visitors who are hard of hearing and so on. We want to keep listening to our visitors who have needs, to make sure they can really connect with all the content the museum has to offer. It’s important that we continue supporting each other as a community and make sure that we continue to keep these doors open for accurate reflections of our communities and have meaningful, powerful relationships with each other.