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MOCA hits $75-million mark, nearing endowment goal

originally posted by the Los Angeles Times
April 18, 2013

Trustees of the Museum of Contemporary Art say they have reached the $75-million mark in their campaign to establish a $100-million endowment, with $50 million raised in the last month alone.

MOCA’s board co-chairs Maria Bell and David Johnson said Wednesday that reaching the three-quarter mark of its goal shows a vote of confidence for the institution and its recent decision to remain independent.

“I think it’s incredible to see this deep support for MOCA,” said Bell, who noted that pledges have come from new museum trustees as well as board veterans. “It’s an extraordinary sign of how much people care about the institution.”

“Over the course of its 30-plus-year history, the museum has built an extraordinary collection and an exceptional exhibition program but has always had to rely on fundraising for its annual budget,” Johnson said. “The endowment campaign will provide a secure financial footing for the museum in the future by providing a portion of the annual budget.”

MOCA officially began its $100-million endowment campaign in March after nixing an acquisition offer by the L.A. County Museum of Art — one of several partnership options being explored. The county museum’s proposal had included an agreement to raise $100 million if MOCA became part of LACMA.

Observers suggested the LACMA figure set the bar symbolically for the MOCA board, but Johnson said the number has more practical origins.

“It’s not that we want to stop at a hundred million, and we don’t intend to stop at a hundred,” Johnson said. “But with $100 million [invested], we think we would generate at least $5 million in cash flow a year, which we believe would really contribute to the operating stability of the museum.”

Johnson and Bell, who spoke publicly for the first time since the LACMA offer, said that the new financial commitments, ranging from $1 million to $10 million, came from 21 donors. “The list represents many board members,” said Johnson. “I think by the end we will have essentially all of the board members.”

Trustees and spouses who have made the new pledges include Wallis Annenberg, Bell and her husband Bill, Johnson and his wife Suzanne, Eli and Edythe Broad, Blake Byrne, Steven and Alexandra Cohen, Cliff and Mandy Einstein, Lenore Greenberg, Bruce Karatz and Lilly Tartikoff Karatz, Daniel S. Loeb and Margaret Munzer Loeb, Eugenio Lopez, Lillian Lovelace, Maurice Marciano, Edward J. and Julie Minskoff, Dallas Price-Van Breda, Fred and Carla Sands, Jeffrey and Catharine Soros, Darren Star and Sutton Stracke.

Two former MOCA supporters and their spouses also donated: Paul and Herta Amir and Marc and Eva Stern.

One familiar name on the list is Eli Broad, the lifetime trustee who pledged up to $30 million in 2008 to help stabilize the museum after its near-meltdown. His commitment included $15 million to fund exhibitions over five years, and a $15-million matching grant for replenishing endowment funds — he would match every dollar contributed to the endowment up to $15 million. The five years of exhibition support is over at the end of this year.

Johnson and Bell declined to discuss Broad’s contributions this time around. “We aren’t discussing the levels of individual donations,” said Johnson. They also declined to confirm whether any conditions must be met for the museum to receive the pledges.

But they did confirm that their $75-million figure includes the full $15 million in matching funds from Broad’s offer. (Earlier this year, when the endowment stood around $22 million, the board had only been able to capitalize on $6.25 million of the matching funds.)

The museum expects to raise more money on Saturday through its annual gala, timed to the opening of the museum’s Urs Fischer exhibition. Bell, who has organized the galas since the popular Murakami fest in 2007, said this year’s event is on track with the others to gross at least $2.4 million. “And that’s at a time when we are also asking many people to support us for this endowment, so it’s very exciting,” she said.

The $75-million figure represents a record high for MOCA’s endowment, which peaked in 2000 at $38.2 million before being spent down in subsequent years.

While ranking behind the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Museum of Modern Art in New York, museums with bigger and broader collections that reach back to the time of Picasso, MOCA’s endowment now outstrips other dedicated contemporary art museums like the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. MOCA now ranks right alongside the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, which also reports an endowment of $75 million.

But few believe that MOCA’s problems are purely financial. Last year director Jeffrey Deitch faced several managerial and public relations problems compounding fundraising challenges, including the departure of all four artist-trustees from the board and high-level staff defections and dismissals. The museum staff now includes only two full-time curators, Alma Ruiz and Bennett Simpson.

So does MOCA plan to rebuild its curatorial team now that it’s down to two curators?

“Yes, absolutely. The plans are to rebuild the curatorial staff and seek a chief curator,” said Bell, but she wouldn’t commit to how quickly the jobs would be filled.

Asked if Deitch would remain in his post as museum director, the answer was brief: “Jeffrey continues to be the director of the museum,” Johnson said.

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