Getty attendance grows as its funding falls
Sticklers for proper English usage probably have given up pointing out that "decimate" is not synonymous with "wipe out" but instead means to reduce something by a tenth. Going by the dictionary definition, the J. Paul Getty Trust's investment fund has gone through a triple decimation over the last year and a half, from a peak of $6.4 billion in mid-2007 to $4.5 billion at the end of 2008 -- prompting plans to more than doubly decimate the Getty's operating budget with a nearly 25% cut during the fiscal coming year.
But one thing about the Getty that apparently is not dwindling with hard times is its appeal to the public. Attendance totaled 1.6 million in 2008 at the Getty Center in Brentwood and the Getty Villa, the antiquities collection near Malibu, says spokesman Ron Hartwig -- and so far this year, it's running 3% ahead of last year's pace in Brentwood and is up 19% at the Villa (right). That's despite a 10% reduction in operating hours at the Getty Center and a $2 hike in parking fees at each site (up to $10), both of which have been in effect since September.
Hartwig says a new marketing slant emphasizing the park-like surroundings, striking views and architectural grace of the two museums seems to be working, along with a revised weekend parking scheme that has freed up more spaces at the Villa, where parking reservations are required. Also, it doesn't hurt that, parking aside, admission remains free -- something Getty President James Wood says he aims to preserve amid the cuts.
While other museums can at least hold out the hope of being bailed out by a wealthy donor or donors -- remember the recent MOCA emergency? -- the Getty Trust typically raises less than $1 million a year in cash donations and has not cultivated the gang of go-to philanthropists that other institutions must marshal to sustain themselves. It simply hasn't had the need, what with its huge endowment generating enough of an investment return, until now, to keep the operation humming.
When then-President Barry Munitz (left) floated a trial balloon about the need to begin vigorous fundraising so as to diversify the trust's income sources and cushion it against market downturns, his idea got strafed by other museum leaders, who said they were having enough trouble raising the money to balance their budgets without having to compete with the Richie Rich of the museum world.
The Getty at least can look back fondly on two great years from mid-2005 to mid-2007, when, according to an analysis by Moody's Investors Service, the trust's investments grew 36.4% -- the opposite of a triple-decimation, whatever the word for that might be.
-- Mike Boehm
Photos: From top, museum-goers at Getty Villa; Getty Villa. Credits: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times (Villa); Matthias Rietschel / Associated Press