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The Academy Museum Finally Finds Its White Knight, and Could Have Had Him All Along

Bill Kramer was an essential and early museum staffer; now he returns to lead the troubled project with skills earned at RISD and BAM.

The Academy Museum

Courtesy AMPAS

With the opening date of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures pushed back well into 2020, and museum director Kerry Brougher finally pushed out after five years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has been desperate to find its white knight. Now, after an exhaustive worldwide search for someone who can serve as a master fundraiser, manager, and taskmaster, the Academy believes it has found its savior — and just like those ruby slippers that the museum will soon have on display, the Academy had the power all along.

Bill Kramer, who will start guiding the museum as its director January 1, has a long history with the Academy Motion Picture Museum. Hired as the Academy Museum’s managing director of development and external relations in 2012, he raised $250 million in funds that were essential to getting the project under way. He went on to shepherd the museum through the complex Los Angeles City Council approval process before leaving in 2016 to work with The Brooklyn Academy of Music as its VP of development, where he led a 45-person team tasked with raising private and government funding, overseeing a visual art expansion program, and growing BAM’s film program.

Why did Kramer leave in the first place? Sources say he wanted to take over the whole museum project, but back then AMPAS CEO Dawn Hudson and the Board of Governors regarded Kramer as a fundraiser. However, he was more than that: During his time at the museum, Kramer served as the chief planning, public relations, advancement, exhibitions, and government relations officer for the museum’s pre-construction phase, and oversaw production of the museum’s first exhibition, Hollywood Costume, which welcomed more than 78,000 visitors.

They stuck with Brougher and his team, along with famed architect Renzo Piano’s ambitious exterior and interior designs. Cost overruns, funding deficits, and chaos ensued.

For years, the Academy avoided letting go of Brougher, who had his own ideas about what the Academy Museum should be, partly because they did not want to hurt fundraising efforts. After five years on the job, he left on August 5 (he was named the museum’s founding director). And the Academy wooed back the man who had wanted the job in the first place.

Bill Kramer

Harold Mindel

Now Kramer will oversee the final stages of the 300,000 square-foot movie museum at the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire to celebrate Hollywood past, present, and future. The opening of the Academy Museum, at a reported cost of $388 million and counting, has been postponed over and over again. First announced in 2012 as coming in 2017, the museum opening was moved to 2018, then December 2019. At this writing, it will open sometime in 2020.

One Academy Museum milestone is coming any day now: the building’s temporary certificate of occupancy, as the museum staff continues to deal with ongoing permitting, inspections, fabrication and testing of the complex exhibitions. How many months will that take? At this point, the Academy is unwilling to volunteer a guess.

Whenever the answer, it’s now on the watch of new AMPAS President David Rubin, who will work with Kramer to turn the museum from the Academy’s albatross into a success. Early delays stemmed from earthquake retrofitting the Saban building (formerly the May Co. department store), which required sinking 260 micropiles 60 feet into the earth, a process that dug up an ancient sloth and other small animals. Now, the Academy has turned the lobby floor into an airy, glass-walled piazza that opens toward the new Piano building.

As construction is completed on the stunning glass dome atop a 1,000-seat theatre, Kramer will need to finish up the two exhibition floors that will contain a permanent installation dedicated to the history of movies. This taps into the Academy library’s massive archive of scripts, artifacts, tech objects, 50,000 posters and more than 12 million photos. They are also mounting the “Wizard of Oz” exhibit — including Dorothy’s red slippers — in the lobby, and will install two floors of moving exhibits.

Studio chiefs Bob Iger and Ron Meyer are still leading the Academy’s fundraising efforts for the museum, but April 2019 saw the exit of Deborah Horowitz, the Brougher lieutenant who served as deputy director for creative content and programming and oversaw the exhibitions. Now, Kramer can move to fill the gaps and staff up for the future.

Academy Museum

An official rendering of the Academy’s 1,000-seat theater.

Before going to BAM, Kramer had senior fundraising roles at Rhode Island School of Design, Southern California Institute of Architecture , California Institute of the Arts, the Sundance Institute, and the Columbia University School of the Arts. He holds a Masters of Urban Planning and Public Administration degree from New York University, and a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of Texas at Austin.

First up is the celebration of the animation of Hayao Miyazaki, followed by a deep dive into the history of black cinema from 1900 to 1970. Let the turnaround begin.

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