Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas sent notice in November that the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum has until the end of the year to move out of their long time residence at the old courthouse on Overland Ave. The ensuing weeks have seen seen shock, confusion and deep concern from members of the community, and no clarification from the County Supervisor’s office.
The November 9, 2018 event that celebrated the creation of a ‘Cultural Corridor’ in Culver City – lining up the Wende Museum, the Historical Archives (ARC) and the MCLM – ended with a modest reception at the Wende Museum. While former Culver City council member Jim Clarke spoke about the city’s rich historical resources reflected in all these collections, he also had some bad news; Ridley-Thomas had inexplicably decided to terminate the lease for the MCLM, and wanted them out by the end of the year.
Lloyd Clayton, the Executive Director of the the MCLM, spoke to the crowd in his usual reserved and measured manner. “Of course, we don’t want to leave Culver City, but we have to talk with the Supervisor’s office and see how we can work this out.”
The official reason for the need to vacate the building was Ridley-Thomas’ need to use it as a ‘constituent center,’ a use that still has received no further definition.
An already-scheduled end-of-year stakeholder meeting for the MCLM on November 20 took up the topic, with several smaller organizations who use the building in agreement with MCLM suddenly understanding that they were being evicted as well.
Steven Fisher, the assistant director of the MCLM, noted that “We have been kept to a month to month lease, for years, and without real stability, it’s hard to do real fundraising.”
Mayor Thomas Small was in attendance, along with Vice Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells, representing the concerns of the city in the matter. Small made a presentation as to how the site could be used as constituent center, a showcase for the Mayme Clayton collection and housing for artists in residence. The creative use of the space would no only keep the MCLM in Culver City, but create the ‘constituent center’ as a landmark destination.
Claudia Gutierrez, the supervisor’s senior deputy for legal affairs, attended representing the supervisor’s office, and was not at all interested in discussing any compromise. She held that the MCLM was being moved out primarily due to needed repairs on the building, such as “there is a room here where part of the roof has collapsed. It’s just not safe for this building to be inhabited.”
Fisher responded that “some ceiling tiles had fallen,” but that the roof was not in danger of collapse.
The meeting ended with stakeholders wondering what would happen next.
Given the extent of the collection- the MCLM is the largest collection of African-American artifacts west of the Mississippi – it is physically impossible to simply move it into storage. According to Clayton, the museum does not have funding to access the climate controlled storage it would need, nor does it have staff to inventory and catalogue the collection as would be essential before moving it.
One Culver City council member who spoke off the record in December said “There has been no transparency here at all. Whatever the supervisor is looking to get from this, it’s a total mystery.”
Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has previously offered the building as an extension of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. but LACMA declined. According to the Los Angeles Times, LACMA had spoken with Ridley-Thomas with an eye towards courting the Supervisor’s help in renovating the mid-Wilshire campus, but talks about satellite campuses for the museum have not come to fruition.
Calls to Ridley-Thomas’ office in regard to the MCLM have not been returned.
Photo caption – Executive Director Lloyd Clayton in his office with a portrait of his mother, Mayme Clayton, the museum’s founder.