Home Con News CCI: Balboa Park Centre, ‘approx two years’ before doors open, says director

Anyone who was hoping that we would be seeing the ultimate San Diego Comic-Con Off-Site opening its doors in the near future maybe a little disappointed to learn that we are quite some way away from the Comic-Con International ‘Don’t Call It A Museum’ coming to fruition.

In an interview with Executive Director of the project, Adam Smith, held at WonderCon last weekend by KBPSBeth Accomando, Smith laid out his thoughts and desired intentions for the space. currently being developed in the old Hall Of Champions building in Balboa Park in San Diego. There’s no escaping the fact that the promise and potential for the project – named provisionally as the ‘Centre For Popular Culture’ – with so many ideas and concepts being hashed out.

“Conceptually, as we imagine the future of the museum… I had breakfast with someone this morning and I said it’s almost like we’re designing three museums inside one building,” says Smith. “Museum #1 is what I call the ‘daytime museum’, which is what would be relatively familiar to everyone: open to the public, full of tourists and visitors and schoolchildren – a regular kind of attendance at think of facility – and they usually stay open from 9 or 10 in the morning until about 5 or 6 in the evening. Museum #2, we feel that our marketplace and our location and our subject matter is making us very strongly think of a place that is open quite long into the evening so [it] would be more of a programmed facility where you might come to see film screenings or do trivia nights with a cafe or attend a cosplay workshop in one of the classrooms, y’know, do tabletop gaming – a more program-driven, evening entertainment kind of venue. And I think, as we work on the project, we thinking there’s a strong case to opening all the way from the morning, straight through to quite late in the evening.

And then Museum #3 is basically a ‘virtual museum’ – part of how we’re conceptualising doing with this project is not just this physically place that people can visit but also as a hub for an organisation that has a national-slash-international scope of reach. So, some of the programming we’ll do in the museum will be very deliberately live-streamed so people can, y’know, there may be two or three hundred people in our building attending a program but there could be two or three thousand watching online, asking questions online, things like that. So, I think the whole concept of how we can project ourselves digitally is something we can build into the design of the thing.”

So, basically, a true Comic-Con HQ, you could say, if one was being cheeky! Smith went on to drop the bad news in terms of when we could actually get to see the inside of this thing, when he covered the current state of the project and where the organisation is in terms of paying for it all.

“Right now, […] we’re in the design process of thinking about what we want [the museum] to be. Simultaneously, we are thinking about, okay, what would the budget be and how much money have we got and how much do we need to raise? I think all of those things will come together in three or four months from now into a firm plan. Comic-Con as an organisation is making a very substantial investment this project from its own resources but that won’t be enough to get to the kind of facility that everybody wants.

So I need to be a little bit vague on what the budget is because, truthfully, we haven’t figured all that out right now but there will be a fund-raising capital campaign to help us raise the funds for it and essentially, what I’ve said to everyone is, it will open eighteen months after we’ve raised the money! Because, there’s a point where you say, “Okay, we’re ready to go, let’s put all the exhibit design and construction into full flow, and that takes time to work through and install…”, and I was saying to someone recently that my job might be a little bit easier if we had NO building because people understand that it takes time and I have had some people say, “Why is it taking so long?? You have this building, why can’t you just get something open really quickly??” I feel, we actually could get something open really quickly but I don’t think it would be any good!”

Three to four months to finalise the funding strategy, eighteen months to complete construction – anyone else doing the basic math here? That’s nearly two years, in an ideal world, before the project cuts its ribbon. In time for SDCC 2020, then. Blimey!

Smith is more encouraging about the stability and longevity of the project, with comments about what CCI have in mind for the space. “We want to put down the foundations for something that’s going to be around for long-term, so that people don’t just come the first time because Comic-Con is there, but also come the second time and third time and many times… To do something that’s got depth and strength, that takes some thought and we’re going to take the time to do that.”

Is it just us that’s both deflated about how long it’s going to be before the champagne gala opening of this ‘museum-not-museum’, but also really jazzed about what they’ve got planned? Bittersweet. We’ll continue to keep a track on the progress of the project, as well as doing our best to either get Adam on the Talkin’ Comic-Con: A Cup O’ Tea… hangout or rugby-tackling him in San Diego this July. We may have a name for the space and updates for its funding around that time, fingers crossed.

For more from Smith, and also highlights from the WonderCon ‘Cartoon Voices’ panel, check out the full interview as part of Beth Accomando‘s excellent Cinema Junkie podcast, published by kpbs.org. You can also follow Beth’s output on Twitter and Facebook.

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