In 2025, South Los Angeles residents can expect a new spacecraft to land in Exposition Park: the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. After many trials and tribulations, the innovative museum has found its home right next door to USC, whether South L.A. is ready for it or not.
Co-founded by Star Wars filmmaker George Lucas and Ariel Investments president and his wife Mellody Hobson, the museum will showcase the couple’s personal art collection as well as some notable additions — including works from Frida Kahlo, Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish. The museum will be prioritizing all forms of narrative art and visual storytelling, from sculptures and photographs to comics and illustrations. The building will also be hosting two theaters, as well as classrooms for interactive workshops.
And yet, with any new project in South L.A., there is room for hesitation.
The billion dollar spacecraft is landing in a neighborhood where the median household income is $33,999, with no clear announced plan for local hiring once the museum opens; the museum did focus on hiring local contractors for the construction work.
The building, rounding out to be 300,000 square feet atop the property’s 11 acre campus, is hard to miss, lining the side of Vermont Avenue and sandwiched between Exposition and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards.
Designed by acclaimed architect Ma Yansong, the futuristic project is full of Star Wars-esque elements, sleek and fit for a spaceship in a galaxy far, far away. Final renderings of the design include a waterfall and a rooftop garden space, setting the museum far apart from the current architectural makeup of the surrounding community.
Construction preparations began in January 2018, with an original planned opening for 2021. Yet, similar to most industries, the pandemic and supply chain issues forced construction to be prolonged, initially to 2023, and most recently to 2025, leaving part of the South L.A. neighborhood under perennial construction.
The museum’s complicated history includes two other previously preferred (yet troubled) locations: San Francisco and Chicago.
San Francisco serving as Lucas’ hometown, Chicago as Hobson’s. The doomed Northern California location was planned for historic Crissy Field (because there was simply not enough room one county over in Marin, home to Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch, which is a mere 4,700 acres), but ultimately fell victim to failed initial negotiations.
In Chicago, the museum was slated to be built on a property overlooking Lake Michigan, but was pushed out by harsh litigation from local environmental advocacy groups. By this point, the project was delayed until an invitation from Mayor Garcetti to give L.A. a shot. From there, the rest is history.
USC and the Lucas Museum have struck up a powerful camaraderie since the museum’s relocation to Exposition Park. Lucas, who graduated from USC’s School for Cinematic Arts in 1967, has been a generous alumni since his graduation, and his alma mater being just a street over from the site of his and his wife’s passion project was a helping hand in the process. As the Lucas Museum’s managing director of social impact, Germonique Ulmer described USC was actually readily involved in the building’s entitlement process, the legal process in which a developer attempts to gain approval from the local government to begin their real estate plans.
This was later confirmed by David Galaviz, the associate vice president of USC’s government and community relations office. Galaviz wrote in an email to Annenberg Media that USC was “pleased to support initial introductions between museum leaders, local leaders and community members” once the move to L.A. was finalized, where city council members unanimously agreed to move forward with development.
The museum is intent on adding to the already lively cultural landscape offered by Exposition Park, which is home to the Natural History Museum and California Science Center, as well as California’s African American Museum. Further, the specific location serves as an educational hotspot. According to Ulmer, the precise location of the campus contains 500 kindergarten through college schools within a five mile radius.
“A lot of what we hope to do is to be able to provide programming for our students and young people and to be able to work with schools,” Ulmer said.
While the 11-acre museum will be built in replacement of a parking lot and will boast plenty of greenery and park space, residents and community members have not entirely welcomed the museum with open arms just yet.
“I’m not sure anyone asked us about building [the museum], but it’s too late now,” said South L.A. resident Canelda Reyez.
Following backlash and concerns for gentrification from South L.A. community organizations due to the construction of the USC Village in 2017, new developments in the area face heavier scrutiny. However, the museum’s construction team has held outreach meetings throughout the area since 2018, with a total attendance of over 1,000 individuals. In addition, there’s record that the city held at least one public hearing regarding the construction in April 2017, inviting occupants or property owners within a 500 foot radius of the building.
The museum also held three separate job fairs to match locals seeking construction jobs with hiring contractors. Still, this is not an entirely relieving effort for some residents.
“A lot of people say, well, the construction jobs, 30% of them are going to [local] people. But those are temporary jobs,” said Adriana Cabrera, president of the Central Alameda Neighborhood Council and co-founder of South Central Mutual Aid, a community collective focused on confronting issues such as food insecurity and rent relief.
Cabrera, who is heavily involved in South L.A. community affairs, stressed her concerns following the project’s ongoing development.
“I called a lot of people that I know do a lot of important work in terms of art advocacy [and] cultural competency here in South Central to ask them like, ‘Hey, has anyone from the Lucas Museum ever hit you up or reached out to you for support?’ And they said no,” Cabrera said.”For me, those are red flags that I know that we can change and we can transform.”
Still, links between the museum and university exist in creative fields, as well. The culmination of a museum dedicated to narrative art inspired professor of art at the Roski School of Art and Design Keith Mayerson to create a narrative art minor.
“SCA is on one side of Roski and the Lucas Museum is on the other. It just makes sense to do something about this and start a minor and a program,” Mayerson said.
The curriculum, which currently has five classes in place this semester, is a collaborative effort between SCA, Roski and Dornsife, but is open to students of any major. Come fall, three more classes will be added to the program, in anticipation of more students taking on the minor.
These classes are only available to current USC students, and as Ulmer emphasized, programming and workshops within the museum will be primarily focused on students within the area of all ages. While there is no direct promise on what workshops or special benefits will be offered to residents,
“We’ve been doing a lot of listening … a lot of learning and a lot of connecting and engaging with the community to really understand what it is that the community wants and what it is that we ultimately [can do to] align with those needs and with those desires in our programming,” Ulmer said.
As the time has passed for further input from members of the neighborhood, residents now can only look to the future.
“We don’t have access to spaces that honor our passion for art, our passion for culture, you know,” Cabrera said. ”Hopefully this development provides us with that opportunity and serves as a model for our community to be able to collaborate with developers as they come to our neighborhood.”
As the grand opening looms closer, South L.A. and its locals can only wait and see what impact a project of this grandeur will have on the community and its entwined culture.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story stated that the museum’s team held two job fairs rather than three. Several other details about the museum’s development, including its waterfall plans, were corrected as well. Annenberg Media regrets these errors.