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Santa Monica Museum of Art is leaving Bergamot Station

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The museum will relocate from its longtime home with hopes that it can return when the site is redeveloped as part of the Metro Expo Line extension.

The Santa Monica Museum of Art is leaving its longtime home at Bergamot Station because the proposed re-development of the arts center has been delayed. The museum does not own a collection, so the move only involves people and furniture. The staff will be based in Century City while it seeks exhibition space.

The Metro Expo Line will extend to Santa Monica next year, including a stop at Bergamot Station. The portion of Bergamot currently controlled by the City of Santa Monica will be contracted to a private developer, and the plans are supposed to include a new home for the museum. But the process of choosing a developer has been prolonged. Whatever happens there, it won't be finished when the trains start rolling in next year. 

"We certainly would be happy to come back as the anchor tenant when Bergamot is redeveloped,"  said the museum's executive director, Elsa Longhauser, in an interview for The Frame. 

Longhauser said museum leaders had hoped to remain at Bergamot, where the museum has been based since 1998, but decided to leave their current space, which is rented from gallery owner Wayne Blank.

Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown said the city wants the museum to end up back at Bergamot.

"We not only want to have a museum, we want to have that museum, and what we have right now is a conflict between long-term plans and short-term circumstances, because we don't control the property that they rent at the moment," McKeown said. He added that will change after the property is redeveloped.

"We will have some control once we build the new Bergamot Station, but obviously the museum needs to keep operating, and they don't have a place to operate there, so they have chosen to go into what they're calling 'an unbound phase'," McKeown said.

Longhauser said that permanent relocation outside the city is an option. 

"We had always hoped to be in Santa Monica, but now I think the board is open to a possible move," Longhauser said.

She said that the museum's future location could be anywhere, including downtown L.A.. A number of galleries have relocated to that area, including prominent former Bergamot tenant Rosamund Felsen. 

McKeown said he's been on Santa Monica's city council since 1998 and has been fighting to retain both art galleries and artists.

"Our challenge on the Westside is that land is very expensive, and rent for space is very expensive, and housing is very expensive" he said. "So, in a way, we're kind of bucking the economic trend to retain artists who sometimes have to get by on lower incomes for a while until they hit it big, to retain galleries where the space is expensive to rent, but we are a very arts-committed community."

The mayor noted that 43 percent of the city's residents make their living in the creative arts: "As a market and a springboard for the arts, I think we have a role to play for a long time to come, and we'll fight to fulfill that role."

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