LA MOCA Weighs Options in Face of Financial Struggles

BY Arts Desk  December 17, 2008 at 4:07 PM EST

The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is struggling to keep its doors open and hold onto one of the world’s best collections of post-World War II art. The museum’s board of trustees will meet Thursday and is expected to decide among two competing rescue offers.

The financial troubles for LA MOCA were brewing well before the recent global economic downturn. Since 2000, the museum has overspent by $1 million a year on average and has been forced to dip into its endowment to cover operating costs. The museum has refused to release current financial figures, but it has been reported that the endowment that once sat near $40 million in 2000 is now as low as $7 million.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a larger institution on the other side of the city with a much healthier endowment, proposed a merger to stop MOCA’s immediate short fall, while preserving the independence of both museums. Michael Govan, director and CEO of LACMA, said in a statement: “The exhibition of its [MOCA’s] extraordinary permanent collection, the continuation of its renowned exhibition program and its commitment to living artists are of paramount importance for the cultural life of Los Angeles. Our proposal is structured to achieve these goals.”

Late last month, billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad proposed a $30 million rescue effort for MOCA, by way of his foundation. His plan would provide $15 million immediately to the endowment and another $15 million over five years to cover operations and exhibitions. In an editorial in the Los Angeles Times, Broad emphasized his gift would come “with the expectation that the museum’s board and others join in this effort to solve the institutions financial problems.”

Board members reportedly are cautious of accepting a deal with Broad if it required they hand over control of the collection in the event they fail to raise adequate matching donations. In February, LACMA opened a $56 million building for contemporary art paid for by Broad, showcasing his personal collection and that of his foundation. It had been speculated that Broad would leave his collection to LACMA, but in January he announced he would keep it. He now has plans to build a headquarters for his foundation and exhibit space.

The fate of MOCA’s director, Jeremy Strick, also is uncertain. Members of the museum’s board of trustees told the New York Times they are negotiating the terms of his resignation and an announcement could be made as early as Thursday’s meeting.

MOCA has two locations in the city of Los Angeles. Its main building is on Grand Avenue in the center of the city, and the Frank Gehry-designed Geffen Contemporary, which was a former police warehouse, is in Little Tokyo. If a deal is not reached soon, MOCA plans to close the Geffen location for six months starting in January.

Editor’s note: MOCA has three locations in the city of Los Angeles. Not mentioned in this report is MOCA Pacific Design Center.