Is the National Animation Museum coming soon?
On Tuesday, State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D – La Cañada Flintridge) announced that he helped secure $2.5 million in the 2022-23 California budget to kick-start efforts to develop virtual and physical animation museums.
There is still a long way to go before the project becomes a reality. Additional fundraising efforts and outreach with studios and groups including the International Association of Animated Films (ASIFA-Hollywood), the nonprofit that produces the Anne Animation Awards, will follow Create your own museum program to celebrate its art form.
One initial idea was to find a space in the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena area that has long been the center of animation. Burbank has been home to Walt Disney Animation Studios since 1940, DreamWorks Animation has called Glendale home since its launch in 1994, and the most recent addition is the new Burbank-based Netflix animation facility.
Leading this effort as founder and chairman is Eddie Newquist, a creative executive who has worked on exhibitions and promotional tours including Harry Potter: The Exhibition, Avatar: Quest for Pandora, and Game of Thrones studio tour. A small advisory board includes Hollywood producer and former DreamWorks Animation head Chris DeFaria (Gravity, get ready for Player One); Academy Award winner Chris Barker, who directed Disney’s freezing with Jennifer Lee; And former Disney executive and Iwerks Entertainment co-founder Stan Kinsey.
According to Newquist, the idea for the museum first formed during his career at a local high school four or five years ago, when he debuted with Portantino, Buck and DeFaria. “It’s only been brought up in conversation, and it’s kind of tragic that there isn’t a single place to celebrate, given so much of the history of animation taking place in and around Southern California,” Newquist said.
The group pledged to support Newquist’s idea, he said, and a few years later Pottingino called to inform him that the budget surplus this fiscal year allowed for more investment in arts and conservation. “This year is the year to do it,” Portantino — whose area includes Glendale, Burbank and Pasadena — said he told Newquist. Portantino then submitted a formal request to the state budget for funding for the approved projects.
Early plans for Newquist were to host gallery shows and exhibitions and events in brick-and-mortar locations, while virtual components could travel out of state. The idea is to explore the history and evolving technology of animation while also providing educational content for students. “Our goal is to celebrate the industry, but also to be an eye-opener and definitely inspire young people to see animation as a great visualization tool, whether you want to go into science or video game production, whether you want to Want to get into robotics,” Newquist said. “We want to make sure that this does look very, very broad across the spectrum. I know it’s a tough job right now, but now is our chance to aim big and dream big.”
If the museums merge, it would join two new, high-profile Los Angeles museums exploring the arts of entertainment and, to a lesser extent, the arts of animation. Opening in fall 2021, the $484 million Academy Museum features an animation gallery and a retrospective of Japanese animation filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, ECG Reportedly priced at $1.5 billion, it will showcase animation under its “narrative arts” banner when it opens in 2023, along with comic art, photography, painting and other art forms.
The idea of building an animation museum is not new.
According to Frank Gladstone, an industry veteran who is now executive director of ASIFA-Hollywood, the idea to create an animation museum in the Burbank area was born out of the animation community more than a decade ago. He said the project didn’t go ahead when they couldn’t raise the funds to start the museum, which has an architecture firm and includes a screening hall and library.
More recently, ASIFA has taken the initiative. At first, their plan was to open a small museum at the organization’s then Burbank headquarters, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the project was shelved as ASIFA abandoned its lease on its space. Now, project planning has restarted, Gladstone reports.
“We had to suspend it for a few years. [But] This is an initiative we never give up.It’s part of our agenda and something we’ve wanted to do for years,” he told THR, It added that ASIFA already has an extensive archive of material including films, concept art, storyboards, notes and production units.
He reports that the majority of theatrical animation material in the ASIFA collection is currently archived by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which the academy confirmed.
Gladstone admitted that he and the ASIFA board were surprised by Tuesday’s announcement of state funding for the Animation Museum because they “didn’t contact us”.
“We welcome talking to them,” he said. (In the case of Newquist, he said he hasn’t had a chance to schedule an in-person meeting yet, but ASIFA is “definitely on our radar.”)
At the same time, Newquist has expressed interest in reaching out to the animation community – studios, individuals and organisations including ASIFA – and working with some organisations on the project.
Newquist recognizes that the $2.5 million earmarked in this year’s state budget is just the beginning, and more fundraising plans are needed. He said the initial $2.5 million in the state budget will go toward recruiting staff to assist with fundraising as well as recruiting executive managers and completing a “top-down likelihood review” of the project. Portantino added that he believes the idea will “snowball” from this point: “It’s very important for the country to act early and send a message that we want to do that,” he said.
“Now I think it’s possible to raise money,” says an optimistic Gladstone, recalling past failed attempts to build an animation museum. “Animation is so widespread and there are so many people working on it [this field]. It deserves something important. “