In response to the launch of CineClub, LACMA’s new cinema-focused membership add-on, Kyle Westphal, Programming Chair Emeritus, Doc Films at University of Chicago who attended the Popcorn Summit, provides comparative data on similar film memberships around the country.
Westphal concludes that LACMA should be praised for taking the initiative to quantify public support for its film programming; if a significant number of members sign up for this premium it will certainly send a strong message to trustees, fundraisers, and friends of the museum that film has real and substantial support among its core constituents. This action represents a level of commitment beyond buying a ticket, but (well) short of endowing the program.
The lowest individual membership level LACMA currently offers (other than the $25 annual student membership) is a $90 tax-deductible 'Active' Membership. This $90 contribution already accords members a discount for film and music programs, so the $50 CineClub premium cannot offer that. Its appeal lies in 'priority ticketing,' an e-newsletter, and, most importantly, the promise that "dues will help support film events, outreach, and efforts to increase overall awareness of LACMA's film department."
Whether that's worth $50 to museum members remains to be seen.
It's not an unprecedented move, as many museums with substantial film programs offer something similar. For the sake of comparison:
Museum of Modern Art in New York offers a staggering deal: Annual memberships as low as $75 give you free admission to every film screening and MoMA presents several a day.
Museum of Fine Arts in Boston offers a stand-alone Friends of Film buy-in for $80 that gives you six free admissions, invitations to sneak previews and special Friends of Film events, and, again, an e-newsletter.
Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio--an avowed model for Govan--doesn't offer a specific way to support the film program, but a $50 membership includes four free film tickets and other perks.
Cleveland Cinematheque at the Cleveland Institute of Art offers a $35 Cinematheque membership which gives a $2 discount on all film tickets.
George Eastman House in Rochester, New York offers a number of options. Museum members (the lowest entry level is $50, $35 for students) receive a $2 discount on all film tickets, and $15 discount on the already discounted Take-10 pass. Additionally, museum members can add $200 to become part of the Dryden Film Society, which promises: "you are invited to hush-hush private screenings; you can shmooze with visiting artists, and you have privileged access to the knowledge of curatorial staff, which covers just about every facet of film history you ever wanted to know about (and more)."
Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has a robust film program and a study collection. No specific film support option, but a basic $60 gives up to a 50% discount on event tickets, which presumably includes film.
Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has its own $50 membership. One of its perks is actually a $10 discount on a general Art Institute membership! Also: $5 admission to all films, $4 admission to the Film Center lecture series, and four free popcorns. Art Institute membership offers no Film Center benefits.
Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive members ($50) receive discounted film admissions. Their Cineaste Circle (minimum donation: $1,000) offers you a chance to "share your passion during Cineaste programs focused on films and filmmaking and with the actors, directors and cinematographers who regularly visit the Pacific Film Archive." You also receive two invitations to filmmaker events, recognition on the PFA donor wall and in its newsletter, and a panoply of other general benefits.
In conclusion, Westphal agrees with Michael Govan that the introduction of a CineClub membership option is a step in the right direction. CineClub will bring LACMA's membership options in line with other museums with strong film programs. CineClub memberships alone, however, cannot underwrite the film program, nor were they designed to.