MOCA trustees face challenges as they go solo to fix museum finances

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It's still unclear how dim the financial picture is at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art -- the museum has not released current budget numbers.

But it's no secret the museum's been ailing for years. It has made huge staffing and programing cuts and a number of suitors have come knocking at its door. MOCA’s trustees have debated a merger offer from the LA County Museum of Art, and partnerships deals with the University of Southern California and the National Gallery in Washington DC.

But now that they've decided to go it alone and build up the museum's endowment instead, can they save the world-class institution?

Experts said a few things are in MOCA's favor, including a brighter economy. They also said trustees are on the right track by seeking to balance revenue streams.

Phil Katz, a researcher with the American Alliance of Museums, said healthy museums rely on a combination of sources of income, including "investments, your support from the public, government at whatever level, your reliance on earned income, your reliance on philanthropic giving."
In 2010, MOCA brought in $14 million from gifts and grants but only $617,000 on returns from its endowment. 

MOCA lovers have criticized trustees for not digging deep enough into their own and fellow philanthropist’s pockets to fund the museum and its world famous 6,000 piece collection of Rothkos, Pollocks, Rauchenbergs and other contemporary masters.

Philanthropist Eli Broad did bail MOCA out with a $30 million donation in 2008. But that has proved not to be enough.
Private art gallery owner Louis Stern said a healthy MOCA is in the L.A. art community's best interest.

When a potential buyer asks what good contemporary art is, he tells them, "go to MOCA."

He said the economy’s bouncing back enough for local philanthropists to prop up MOCA.

"My hope is that they will somehow get together and say, hey look once and for all, this is a great collection," he said. "Let’s make sure it remains independent and remains stable." 

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