MOCA faces serious financial problem

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The museum has burned through $20 million in unrestricted funds and borrowed $7.5 million from other accounts. Cash from donors is being sought. A merger has not been ruled out.

Los Angeles’ prestigious but chronically underfunded Museum of Contemporary Art has fallen into crisis

…Federal tax returns show that even before the current national crisis, MOCA had been draining its reserves to pay operating expenses. In the meantime, the museum’s staff has grown…

…Unlike the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which is partly controlled by the county, MOCA receives minimal government funding….

…In recent years, the museum has averaged 250,000 visits annually to view critically acclaimed exhibitions and a collection boasting works by such post-World War II masters as Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg and Mark Rothko

…In an interview this week, Strick would not disclose more recent financial figures. But he acknowledged that the national economic crisis had further flattened the museum’s cushion

…the number of museum employees, including part-timers, has risen from about 150 early in this decade to about 200 in recent years.

Strick said that was due to increased educational programs and the addition of a curatorial department for architecture and design.

So far there have been no staff cuts as MOCA continues operating at the main Grand Avenue museum, whose $23-million cost was paid by the developers of the California Plaza in exchange for the right to use the rest of an 11-acre parcel of city redevelopment land.

“I think it is time for this city to step forward and offer the kind of financial support commensurate with the work being done.”

Since its inception, MOCA has grown to encompass three exhibition spaces. The “Temporary Contemporary,” later renamed the Geffen Contemporary, opened in 1983 in a warehouse at the edge of Little Tokyo that had been revamped by architect Frank Gehry. Three years later, the museum’s permanent home, designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, opened on Grand Avenue, where it is a mainstay of the planned redesign of the area known as the Grand Avenue project. In 2000, MOCA acquired an exhibition space at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood.

An irony of MOCA’s plight is that, thanks to the appetite of wealthy international collectors, the market value of its prime pieces has soared. Corporations and individuals routinely sell sculptures and paintings in an economic pinch, but a museum that did so would be violating its reason for existing, which is keeping art in the public domain.

Philanthropists in Chicago, San Francisco and Boston have “a clear understanding” that the health of a city’s museums reflects on the state of the city as a whole…

Is MOCA’s peril a decisive moment for L.A. art philanthropy?

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