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California Fires Lead to the Closure of the Getty Museum

The entire campus that houses the world-famous Getty Museum in California has been closed down in an emergency action, following widespread wildfires that have broken out in the West coast state. The Getty Center – which is home to the Getty Museum as well as other institutions that are part of the Getty Trust – was threatened by forest fires in late October. The museum itself is an attraction that sees almost two million visitors each year. Part of a wider development in the Brentwood district of Los Angeles, the museum only opened to the public in the late 1990s.

However, in order to protect members of the public and staff members from the chance that the wildfires in the region will potentially cut them off at the institution, museum officials decided to close the whole campus down. What may be of even more interest to museum professionals around the world, however, is the fact that the many precious works of art that are housed in the museum will not be moved. The powers that be at the Getty Center believe they will remain safe thanks to the design of the museum itself.

The Power of Californian Wildfires

Although the state of California is well used to wildfires breaking out, recent droughts in the area have led to much of the hilly countryside developing tinderbox-like conditions. Some firefighters in the state have been warning that a really big fire could develop in places close to the sprawling city of Los Angeles, especially in neighbourhoods like Brentwood where the museum is located. On October 28th, there was a huge fire raging in the countryside just to the north of the city which was placing Brentwood – and other districts – under risk. That day, museum staff at the Getty Center were told that they should work from home as the situation developed. Given that the museum is usually closed to the public on Mondays, this was not a dramatic step to take.

However, by the end of the working day, firefighters reported that only a small proportion of the wildfire had been brought under control. Despite the fact that over a thousand fire service personnel were deployed in the field to try and protect neighbourhoods like Brentwood, strong winds meant that they were always on the back foot. In the end, the museum’s management team decided that the gallery would remain closed for an undetermined period until the fire could be brought under control. As of the following day – October 29th – firefighters said that the Getty Center was no longer under immediate danger from the wildfire. However, museum managers stuck with their decision to keep the entire museum closed to both employees and the public, knowing that the fire could easily change direction and grow if it were to be whipped up by further strong winds.

An Abandoned Museum?

The Richard Meier-designed building that houses the Getty Museum is, the management team hope, able to withstand forest fires in the area. It was constructed from cement and steel and had fire-resistant travertine stone walls and flooring built into its design. In addition, the museum has automatic fire doors which are designed to arrest the rate of fire spreading so that the contents can be safeguarded more easily. In addition, the structure was made with stone on the rooftops. This means that any embers that are caught on the wind and land on the museum should not immediately lead to a blaze.

The Getty Museum houses numerous historical paintings and sculptures by famous names such as Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, Degas and Manet, among others. However, the museum’s managers believe the best place for them is to remain in situ even thought the wildfires have got perilously close to the building. In northern California, similar emergency closures have occurred at the Charles Schulz Museum in Sanoma County where an even more vigorous forest fire is ablaze. Both fires continue to pose problems for the state authorities and museum professionals alike.

Interested in how museums can respond to the climate crisis? Join us for the Green Museums Summit in March 2022.

About the author – Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.

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