USC forms partnership with Pacific Asia Museum

USC has formed an alliance with Pasadena’s Pacific Asia Museum, President C. L. Max Nikias announced in a statement Tuesday morning. The museum will now be called the USC Pacific Asia Museum.

“With its rich history and inspiring works of art, Pacific Asia Museum will be the perfect complement to many academic endeavors at USC,” Nikias said in the statement. “Both of our organizations work to enrich the educational experience, advance art history and preserve the past for future generations.”

The Pacific Asia Museum has a collection of more than 15,000 objects and works of art housed in a Pasadena mansion modeled in Chinese Qing dynastic style. It is one of the few museums in the United States that focuses only on Asia and Asian art.

The museum, which serves the Pasadena, San Gabriel and Los Angeles communities, was struggling financially. In July, committee members approached USC about a possible partnership.

“We have had trouble in the last five years with the recession keeping the museum running full tilt,” said Elizabeth Short, trustee and chair of the museum’s strategic planning committee. “What we needed was to be able to have a bigger endowment.”

Short also said museums need to have an endowment that provides enough interest to fund 30 to 50 percent of the operating budget.

“If you don’t do that, you are always going to be in trouble no matter how big your shop is or your café is or how many people go through the museum,” Short said.

The museum considered a number of partnerships with national and local art and educational institutions, but USC was at the top of the list.

“We’re partnering with a Pacific Rim university that is very renowned that I think it will enable us to serve and attract a much broader base,” Katherine Murray-Morse, chair of the museum’s board of trustees, said. “It will have a much greater impact on the community.”

USC has a growing graduate and undergraduate Asian population and, as part of its responsibilities in managing the museum, it will tap Asian donors to create a $20 million endowment. The museum’s board of trustees will become an advisory council and the USC board of trustees will hold fiscal responsibilities.

The partnership is not the first of its kind. The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. partnered with The George Washington University and is constructing a new building on the campus. Still, Short, who is also on the board of the Textile Museum, said she was surprised and please at the speed and ease with which USC agreed to the partnership.

USC already has partnerships with organizations such as the Shoah Foundation, and the University Park Campus is home to the Fisher Museum, whose director, Selma Holo, will also serve as interim director of Pacific Asia Museum. The museum will form a joint search committee in January to find a permanent director.

“There are a number of things USC is bringing into the fold that will enhance its teaching capability and it can provide what art institutions need,” Short said. “A museum is an educational institution whether it has a university with it or not. You teach about the culture and you teach about how to make art and the importance that art has in people’s lives.”

Campus administrators are currently working with the museum to create a potential graduate program in museum curation and exhibit creation to bring artwork and objects to the museum and to campus.

Professor George Hayden in the department of East Asian Languages and Cultures said that though many of his courses do not accommodate time for field trips and he has not been to the Asia Pacific Museum for many years, he always enjoyed visiting the museum.

“It’s a great thing, a very pleasant experience and I would certainly encourage students and faculty to go,” Hayden said.

Murray-Morse believes the partnership will prove mutually beneficial and said she is excited about what the future holds for both the museum and the university.

“It’s a great university with such strength in the art field and Asian studies,” she said. “We hope to provide additional resources to augment what [the university] already has.”


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