Billionaire "Star Wars" creator George Lucas, who wants to establish a major museum to house his significant art and movie memorabilia collection, is considering Chicago as the location after plans for his $300 million Lucas Cultural Arts Museum stalled in San Francisco.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants the museum and is expected to create a task force of community leaders to identify potential sites. The city will submit a proposal to Lucas in the coming months, said David Spielfogel, a senior adviser to Emanuel.
Lucas' institution, excitedly identified by one San Francisco publication as "a world-class museum of the digital arts," would house a collection that includes valuable Norman Rockwell paintings, examples of the Hollywood special effects he pioneered at Industrial Light & Magic, and memorabilia such as a scale model of the Millennium Falcon, the fictional spacecraft commanded by Han Solo.
The decision to consider Chicago reflects Lucas' recent commitment to the city. The 69-year-old filmmaker, who is worth an estimated $5 billion, is married to Chicago investment executive Mellody Hobson.
Lucas has been living part time in downtown Chicago.
In the past year, Lucas and Hobson have committed $25 million each to two local, education-focused charities: the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and After School Matters.
"The city of Chicago has enthusiastically welcomed me and I consider Chicago to be my second home," Lucas said in a statement. "I look forward to working with community leaders to see if Chicago can become home to the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum."
Chicago will not be the only city vying to host the museum, which is expected to be built without taxpayer money. Emanuel has been pursuing Lucas' collection for months.
The city has a shot at the museum because Lucas has been frustrated in his efforts to nail down an agreement for his first choice: a San Francisco bayside location on Crissy Field, part of a former Army base turned urban national park known as the Presidio.
The seven-member board of The Presidio Trust, which oversees the park, rejected his and two other competing plans, offering instead a less desirable spot in the Presidio, near Lucas' former film studio, now owned by Disney.
A spokesman for the museum said Lucas' preferred site was at sea level facing the bay and Golden Gate Bridge, while the site under consideration is "higher and back and removed."
"Frankly, we're looking at it, and we're waiting to see what Chicago comes up with," said David Perry, the spokesman. "And there are some other cities that have expressed interest, which I can't talk about."
When asked whether Lucas' embrace of a Chicago proposal was nothing more than an attempt to gain leverage over the Presidio board, Perry responded: "We are not playing the cities off each other."
The museum would be a tribute to storytelling and art in its most popular and commercial forms, from comic books and children's book illustrations to costumes, cinematic design and digital animation.
"I prefer emotional art," Lucas said in a video about the museum. "Something you actually feel."
Among the centerpieces of the collection are works by painter and illustrator Maxfield Parrish and Rockwell, which, when combined with Lucas' friend Steven Spielberg's Rockwell collection, packed the galleries of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2010.
Another key component is digital animation and special effects, such as the technology behind "Toy Story" and the sound effects that created the light saber. Among the museum's inked partners are DreamWorks Animation SKG, the maker of "Shrek" and other animated films. Spielberg co-founded the company, and Hobson is chairman of its board. Other partners include Pixar, the creator of the "Toy Story" franchise, and National Geographic.
"We're not talking about your grandfather's old museum," Perry said. "We're talking about a museum that is going to stretch the boundaries of the museumgoing experience."
The museum would be built and endowed without taxpayer support, Spielfogel and Perry pledged. When pressed whether the gift of public land would be deemed "taxpayer support," Perry responded that it would depend on Chicago's offer.
Eleven city museums, from the Art Institute of Chicago to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the National Museum of Mexican Art, use Chicago Park District land and receive taxpayer money that subsidizes a portion of their operations. In exchange, the museums are required to offer free admission to Illinois residents for the equivalent of 52 days a year and not charge entry to Illinois schoolchildren accompanied by a teacher.