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South view of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art
(All conceptual renderings © MAD Architects, via lucasmuseum.org)

“The Preservationists Strike Back” could be the title for the latest episode in the saga of Star Wars director George Lucas’s planned $300 million Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts (LMNA) on the Lake Michigan waterfront in Chicago. The organization Friends of the Parks, which has been advocating for the preservation and improvement of Chicago’s parks since 1975, has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the plan to build the LMNA on a plot of lakefront property that the Chicago Park District will lease to the institution for $1 per year violates the 1973 Lakefront Protection Ordinance that banned future private development on the city’s waterfront.

“While we are very supportive of the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum coming to Chicago, we oppose its siting on lakefront public open space,” Cassandra Francis, the president of Friends of the Parks, said in a statement. “The Lakefront Protection Ordinance specifically states that, ‘in no instance will further private development be permitted east of Lake Shore Drive.’ It is clear that the siting of the Lucas Museum in this lakefront location contradicts our prior city visionaries’ goal of continuous public open space along the lakefront.”

South view of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art

Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel contends that the LMNA will be “part of an entire museum campus,” according to the Chicago Tribune, referring to the nearby Alder Planetarium, Field Museum, and Shedd Aquarium. But for Friends of the Parks, Lucas’s museum constitutes a private development. “This is someone building his own multiplex and costume museum on the lakefront,” the vice chair of Friends of the Parks, Fred Bates, told the Tribune. “That’s his private usage.”

Emmanuel’s role in the selection of the lakefront plot — a space just south of the Soldier Field football stadium that is currently occupied by two parking lots — is also being called into question because many of the parties with a vested interest in the museum’s construction gave money to his reelection campaign. In 2011, the mayor received some $50,000 in campaign contributions from Mellody Hobson (who married Lucas last year), executives at the Walt Disney Company, which bought Lucasfilm and rights to the Star Wars franchise in 2012, and Disney chief executive officer Bob Iger, according to the International Business Times.

Adding aesthetic injury to insinuations of unethical campaign contributions, the Chicago Tribune‘s architecture critic Blair Kamin took a lightsaber to the plans for the LMNA, dubbing it “Mount Lucas.” He wrote: “This is the Temple of George, a monument to its patron rather than a modest addition to a democratic public space.”

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

2 replies on “Chicago Park Advocates Fight ‘Star Wars’ Museum with the Force (of the Law)”

  1. This cannot be allowed to happen! The benefit of the public good in having an open lakefront trumps the alleged benefit of any Star Wars multiplex temple to Lucas. As the story states, this is just another instance of political kickback and cronyism. For shame on your George Lucas, for shame.

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