With all the talk of a performing arts center on the northeast edge of Mizner Park, let’s not overlook the existing cultural attraction on the northwest edge.
Indeed, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Boca Raton Museum of Art is thriving. In March, the well-reviewed, well-attended exhibition “Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru” ended. It was a coup for the museum, since many of the nearly 200 pieces were outside Peru for the first time.
A month later came “The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop,” which runs until January. It is another world premiere, this time for an exhibition of pieces from 1938 to 1968 that remind us of what stunning work the industry did by hand before the advent of computer-generated graphics.
You can stand in front of the Mount Rushmore backdrop from “North By Northwest” and remember Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint fleeing James Mason in the climactic scene. You can stand in front of the backdrop from “The Sound of Music” and remember the small boat carrying Julie Andrews and the Von Trapp children tipping over in front of their annoyed father, played by Christopher Plummer. You can see the 50-foot-long backdrop depicting ancient Rome in “Ben Hur.”
Well-placed lighting allows visitors to appreciate how the works gave audiences the sense of being there. Displays explain how directors used the backdrops to create some of the industry’s most memorable scenes. If you like to take selfies, there are many opportunities.
Praise came from as far away as The Hollywood Reporter. A Wall Street Journal review pronounced the exhibition “terrific,” noting correctly that many of the backdrops are “artwork in their own right, sometimes upstaging the films themselves.” The exhibition showcases craftsmanship that had been forgotten and makes it approachable for the public.
The museum has never looked better, and not just from a critical standpoint. Gone is the colonnade on the west side of the Mizner Park Amphitheater that officials said had essentially walled off much of the museum. A $5 million renovation, which was completed just before the Machu Picchu exhibition opened, made the exterior much more inviting.
Irvin Lippman has been the museum’s executive director since 2014. The backdrop exhibition, he said recently, “shows off the museum.” It also shows off Lippman.
He brought the Machu Picchu exhibition by leveraging relations with organizers of the King Tut exhibition in Fort Lauderdale 16 years ago. To secure the exhibition, Lippman worked with the University of Texas, which had assembled nearly two dozen of the backdrops. After starting with the 92-foot-long Mount Rushmore work, “Everything fell into place.”
Complementing that Hollywood artwork was an exhibition by Bonnie Lautenberg, widow of the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Called “Arts Meets Hollywood,” it ran through last Sunday. Lautenberg matched artwork to still pictures from movies that of the same year.
One photo is of Janet Leigh from the shower scene in “Psycho.” Another is of Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra. With a laugh, Lippman said the exhibition got praise from “publications I didn’t know existed.”
Whatever the source, the museum has received plenty of good publicity in the last 20 months. Lippman said it’s important for the museum to “be top of mind.”
According to Deputy Director Jim May, museum membership was 1,100 households in May 2021 when the Machu Picchu exhibition was announced. After Machu Picchu, membership had tripled. “We are reaching a broad audience.” Roughly half of the members live north of Boca Raton, which is one reason that the museum was interested in running the Cornell Art Museum at Delray Beach’s Old School Square.
Twenty-two years ago, the museum left its location on East Palmetto Park Road and moved to Mizner Park. That building now holds the museum’s art school, which offers 800 classes to roughly 5,000 students. As Lippman said when Delray Beach approached the museum, “We are out of space there.”
As for the main facility, the museum is about to start spreading out. With the departure of the Lautenberg exhibition, Lippman said, the museum has brought out more of its permanent collection, carried out what he called “installation programs” and created an Ancient Americas section on the second floor. “It will be quite wonderful.”
For all the nationwide attention, however, the museum remembers where it’s from. Opening next week will be the third exhibition—with photographs from Washington, D.C.-based Reggie Cunningham—to showcase Pearl City. As Lippman notes, Boca Raton’s historic African-American neighborhood is just two blocks from the museum.
In 2025, Boca Raton will turn 100 and the museum will turn 75. The museum has plans for both anniversaries. In January, with support from the Bloomberg Philanthropies, will come the launch of a new app offering virtual tours worldwide.
Officials also are examining how to expand the arts school. Creation of the arts center and a renovated amphitheater would make that north end of Mizner Park a top-tier regional cultural draw.
Said Lippman of the museum, “There’s a palpable sense of excitement here.”
Ag Reserve land swap plan on hold
On Wednesday, the Palm Beach County Commission postponed action on the land swap that critics correctly say would destroy the Agricultural Reserve Area.
GL Homes, which proposed the swap, asked for a postponement. The company cited a letter from a county official with questions about a reservoir GL has offered to build as part of the deal. That reservoir would be west of West Palm Beach.
Actually, I believe that GL sought the postponement because the swap didn’t have enough votes to pass. The company wants to trade land outside the reserve so it can build 1,000 high-end homes north of Stonebridge Country Club near Clint Moore Road and State Road 7.
Rules allow land swaps only within the reserve for rights to build there. Breaking that rule would set a precedent that other developers could exploit until farming was driven from reserve that voters taxed themselves to protect.
With the delay, commissioners won’t consider the swap until next May. County Mayor Robert Weinroth, who represents Boca Raton and Delray Beach, and Commissioner Gregg Weiss voted for the delay. Both are on the ballot in November. They were joined by Melissa McKinlay and Maria Marino. Mack Bernard, Dave Kerner and Maria Sachs voted against the delay. Sachs represents the reserve.
Another seven-figure donation to Boca Regional
Boca Raton Regional Hospital has announced the second $1 million donation from the Sands Family Foundation and Constellation Brands toward the hospital’s Keeping the Promise capital campaign.
Rob Sands is executive director of Constellation Brands, the wine/beer/spirits behemoth. He serves on the board of the hospital’s fundraising foundation. Keeping the Promise has received $236 million toward its goal of $250 million.