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Scheduled for an April 30, 2021 opening, the newly restored and expanded Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles has tapped Chicago’s Jacqueline Stewart as Chief Artistic and Programming Officer, effective in January.
It’s a significant move for Stewart, 50, the longtime Chicago film archivist, academic, author and curator best-known nationally as a host on Turner Classic Movies, and presenter of TCM’s “Silent Sunday Nights.”
Stewart will be taking an extended leave of absence from her current position with the University of Chicago Department of Cinema and Media Studies.
As artistic leader of the LA Academy Museum, Stewart will oversee the institution’s curatorial, programming, education and public engagement and publications teams.
“We know her well,” museum director and president Bill Kramer said in an interview Friday. “We know her work well. We could not think more highly of her scholarship and knowledge. As a community builder she’s deeply connected to archival work and film preservation. And she’s a wonderful connector, period.”
The year 2021 is a huge one for LA’s film-related museum landscape. Scheduled for substantial completion next year: the billion-dollar Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. Initially planned for San Francisco and then Chicago, it’s now under construction in downtown LA’s Exposition Park, made possible by the largesse (and “Star Wars” royalties) donated by filmmaker George Lucas and longtime Chicago business leader Mellody Hobson.
The Academy Museum, located along the “Miracle Mile” stretch of Wilshire Boulevard at Fairfax, currently holds more than 5,000 objects gathered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. The Academy is best known for its annual awards show, the Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars.
The collections range from production artifacts (Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz”) to still and moving images telling the story of film production in America and internationally. The Academy’s treasure trove contains more than 12 million photographs alone, alongside 80,000 screenplays and more than a hundred thousand examples of production art and design.
The museum campus’s long-delayed, nearly $500 million expansion aspires to a work of production art unto itself. Connected by skybridges to the restored 1939 Art Deco main building, Italian architect Renzo Piano’ssignature addition is known as the “Sphere Building,” a striking glass and steel structure featuring an indoor/outdoor terrace and a 1,000-seat movie theater. A smaller theater will be housed by the restored 1939 building.
“I’m so honored to come on board just as it’s about to open,” Stewart said Friday. “The Academy Museum is such an expansive canvas, and that means when we’re laying out the history of film it’ll give us some room to think about how to add things, new research, new acquisitions, new exhibits.”
The first major exhibition, long in the works, showcases the animation giant Hayao Miyazaki (“Howl’s Moving Castle”) and his Studio Ghibli achievements. The museum’s second rotating exhibition, “Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971,” deals with the early silent era up through the civil rights movement.
Stewart served on the advisory committee for that project, co-created by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Stewart’s scholarship and published work on the subject of Black film includes the books “Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity” and “L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema.” In Chicago, Stewart taught full-time at Northwestern University prior to joining the University of Chicago. She founded the South Side Home Movie Project, archiving and presenting amateur footage shot by South Side residents. Stewart also served on the Chicago Film Archives board, among others.
Outside of Chicago she has served on the National Film Preservation Board, and has chaired the board’s diversity task force.
“When so many institutions were looking at themselves and asking how to amplify their staff equity, diversity and inclusion efforts,” Stewart said, “I was impressed that here, with the Academy Museum, was an institution that has been thinking about these issues from the start.”
Her TCM introductions and her longtime Chicago film projects, she said, tie directly into her new LA post.
“Especially in the last few months,” Stewart said, “the work with TCM has sparked active and important conversations with viewers. The commentary we did on ‘Gone with the Wind’ for HBO Max, the TCM special on blackface in cinema — these are complex aspects of film history, and people need spaces to talk about these issues.”
The nation, she said, has undergone “so much reflection on equity and racial justice. It’s clear to me given the exhibitions being planned at the Academy Museum that these issues are at the core of what they’re already thinking about. And it’s my role, among others, to see that they remain an essential part of how this museum functions internally and externally.”
Stewart added that she’ll be looking “to create lots of bridges between the museum and other film organizations, including many in Chicago that are meaningful to me.” She cited the Chicago Film Archives and the Black Harvest Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center, for starters.
The April opening for the Academy Museum, Kramer said, means that “assuming the pandemic is still around we’ll need to open at reduced capacity and timed ticketing. And we’ll be prepared to do so.” The museum will take its place along the LA Mid-Wilshire Museum Row, near the LA County Museum of Art and the La Brea Tar Pits.
“This kind of public engagement work — it’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” Stewart said.
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.
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