The Lucas Museum is looking better and better. What an error Chicago made. -Chicago Tribune

The addition of a work by Kerry James Marshall — arguably, Chicago’s most important living visual artist — to the lineup of the $1 billion Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, the privately funded celebration of art and storytelling put together by the Star Wars creator George Lucas, comes with a sting.

The Lucas Museum said this week that it had acquired Marshall’s 2018 piece, RHYTHM MASTR Daily Strip (Runners), an artwork created in response to what Marshall saw as the “absence of black superheroes, characters and environments in mainstream comics.”

But there was more. The museum also has announced acquisitions of work from Lucas Cranach the Elder, John Singer Sargent, Weshoyot Alvitre, Ernie Barnes, Jaime Hernandez and Cara Romero, adding to Lucas’ deep Norman Rockwell holdings. And it said it was all coming together slowly but surely for a 2025 opening (pushed back due to pandemic-era delays), with a park and gardens integrated into what will be an 11-acre campus. They’ve even planted 200 new trees.

This is all happening in Los Angeles.

To refresh your memory, Chicago turned down this museum in 2016 after an extensive campaign against it by the Chicago group known as Friends of the Parks, which later turned its ire and clout on the Obama Presidential Center, albeit with less success. As a consequence, we effectively drove out of the city one of the world’s most famous and revered men, not to mention his similarly accomplished and philanthropic wife, Melody Hobson, now the chairwoman of Starbucks Corp.

This was all due to a fight over the lakefront site close to the Field Museum. When Mayor Rahm Emanuel left office, he furiously noted that the place Lucas wanted to go remained a “parking lot” (he also added a colorful adjective).

That, of course, was before we knew that the Chicago Bears wanted out of Soldier Field for new digs in Arlington Heights and that the whole campus around that stadium would now need to be reinvented. Had that museum been part of our thinking on all that now, there would have been a tourist-drawing anchor already in place. Fully funded, too; unlike the Bears, Lucas asked for no handouts. Throughout the pandemic, hundreds of Chicago workers would have been involved in the museum’s construction.

Alas, the site is still a parking lot.

History will not be kind to this decision, made with a big dose of snobbery about a populist museum interested in stories and comic-book art that is predictably turning out to be more significant in terms of holdings than its detractors claimed. And, we’ll venture, in appeal.

Certainly, Lucas did not kiss all the right rings in town, and there was room for negotiation over the precise site, but knowing what we know now, letting this one get away will go down as one of Chicago’s biggest mistakes.

Right now, we are being forced to deal with some very different kinds of headlines than the arrival of an exciting, new cultural attraction with global appeal.

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