MOCA board agrees to bailout, resignation of museum director

Trustees and supporters of L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art announced today they're accepting a $30 million bailout from a prominent philanthropist. That'll avert a proposed merger with the much larger L.A. County Museum of Art. MOCA, as it's known, was running out of cash. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez says it could have closed next year if it didn't land a big patron.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: The money will come from L.A. arts "angel" Eli Broad.

Eli Broad: Today is a great day. It really is the rebirth of MOCA.

Guzman-Lopez: Broad unveiled an agreement between his charitable foundation and MOCA. The agreement calls for a new museum director, the addition of museum trustees, and the formation of an advisory committee.

MOCA also agreed not to sell any of its art, and to maintain two of its three locations in Los Angeles: the main site on Grand Avenue and the warehouse site in Little Tokyo.

Trustees also agreed to a $75 million fundraising campaign. They'll raise some of the money and solicit more online in the hope of matching $15 million from Eli Broad. The philanthropist is pledging another $15 million for art exhibits in the next five years.

MOCA director Jeremy Strick is out. Trustees bought out his contract for an undisclosed amount. They hired former UCLA chancellor Charles Young as chief executive until they hire a new director. Young promised to help stabilize the 29-year-old institution.

Charles Young: We will live within our means and take steps immediately to adjust our operating budget to a sustainable level. While ramping up our donor base, membership efforts, and undertaking measures to increase awareness of and attendance at MOCA's two sites.

Guzman-Lopez: Strick and trustees were unable to keep donations from tapering off as costs rose and the economy tanked. Many of the people who admired the museum's artistic boldness credited Strick for enhancing that reputation. He highlighted those achievements after Broad's announcement.

Jeremy Strick: We're in a stronger position than we've ever been before, and I'm looking forward to a great future for MOCA.
Guzman-Lopez: What about your financial management of MOCA, though?
Strick: I'm very proud of everything that's happened. MOCA's had a challenging time throughout its history, but now I think we can look forward to a much more stable and secure future.

Guzman-Lopez: MOCA spent more than it took in when Strick came on board, said board co-chair Tom Unterman. The endowment remained stable for several years, he said, before the slumping economy forced administrators to spend endowment money for day-to-day operations.

Tom Unterman: I'm not much sure there was much other that could have been done. Other than make MOCA something much, much less than it's become. And now that we have a campaign to replenish the endowment, and we've hit a place where we can do that. I think history will say that over time, the board had done the right thing.

Guzman-Lopez: MOCA maintains a loyal following among artists and academics. They still consider its exhibit of L.A. artists 15 years ago as a watershed, and more recent shows of minimalist and feminist art sparked intense debates.

Founders of an online MOCA support group say 3500 people have signed on. Cindy Bernard, a professor at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design, helped to launch the site. She attended the MOCA announcement.

Cindy Bernard: No artists are included on the advisory committee, no one under the age of 60 is included on the advisory committee. MOCA is a young museum and is supported and exhibits young artists. And we saw none of that today.

Guzman-Lopez: The advisory committee does include veteran arts leaders such as former L.A. councilman Joel Wachs and John Walsh, a past director of the Getty Museum.

Their task, people at the Broad announcement said, will be to polish a regional artistic gem – and to convince more people that it's an exciting place with a sustainable future.