Saving MOCA! Part Two of Three!
If you have not yet read Part One – that is the post before this and it covers the immediate short terms needs of MOCA.
This particular post, however, is about how the founding founders of MOCA in their infinite wisdom – totally screwed themselves.
Without going into all the gory details, MOCA was part of the Bunker Hill redevelopment project and the museum’s construction was paid for the by 1% arts fees of the developer. And a great plan was developed by a local company with what would later become one of the greatest teams of architects ever on one project – but the CRA instead went with a deep pocketed Canadian developer who hired a talentless hack, gave us California Plaza and then went BK.
But to add injury to insult, the plan also greatly restricted the size of the museum building and made it largely subterranean and made it impossible to ever add onto the building in a major way. Adding to that, there was a conflict among the MOCA trustees – and, gee, is this beginning to sound familiar? – on whether one should strive for a world class landmark – or just a large barn to hold art.
As it turned out – both sides lost and so now we have a nice - but not great - piece of architecture that is so hidden and so modest that most people Downtown do not even know there is an art museum on Bunker Hill – which includes many who drive past it daily.
Hence the museum has a very low profile both physically and institutionally in Downtown Los Angeles - much less the rest of LA - and most people I know outside of the art world who live Downtown have never once been in the museum.
Yet – the other – and far more major - problem is that the exhibition space is now far too small and the only way MOCA has been able to survive is that the temporary museum – AKA the TC, then The Geffen – that was retrofitted out of a warehouse before the actual museum was built, was kept open by popular demand when the real museum was opened.
But the days when MOCA could survive with such limited exhibition spaces have long past – which is why the entire institution has literally reached its expiration date.
The problem is MOCA can never show more than a tiny part of its permanent collection and any major donors to the museum know if they donate their collections to the permanent collection, MOCA will never be able to show what they are donating.
Meanwhile – across town – at LACMA, their board bought almost a full bock directly across the street for parking- and for future developments. Then they bought both the May Company and its adjacent Appliance building and the parking lots behind them. LACMA finally recently bought both an office building on Wilshire and an under-construction building behind it.
LACMA can now house ten major new collections with the space it can add to its campus while MOCA can barely open a new broom closet. So guess who gets all the major donations? Guess who has all the major collectors serving on its board? And guess who is going broke?
Now the leaders of MOCA have considered expanding – and – hat in hand – they went begging for land from the Grand Avenue Project - even though the public benefits had already been spoken for as being the civic park and affordable housing –leaving nothing for them.
So they gave up trying to expand on Grand Avenue since the only site they ever considered was supposedly out of reach - even though there was a way to make even that work - if they had any imagination.
Their other problem is they never did a real analysis of the land around their buildings. For if they had, they would have realized there are seven different locations along the Grand Avenue Corridor for their expansion – and three of them are solely owned by the City of Los Angeles.
In fact, there are acres and acres of potentially free land for the taking, but they have been too blind to see them.
Now at the same time, the Getty Museum is building the world’s largest photography collection, but – by law – it cannot add even one square foot to its campus in Brentwood due to covenants that run with its deed - while MOCA has a very modest photography collection.
In addition, Eli Broad is looking for a place to build the storage facility for his collection of contemporary art.
And, again, there are acres and acres of under-utilized infrastructure owned by the City of Los Angeles within one to two blocks of MOCA – not to mention other sites where all three of these projects could be easily located..
Now one obvious solution is that the Getty be given rights to part of the city owned land for its photography museum (which would then replace the need for MOCA to spend its resources on that subject) in exchange for help for MOCA.
The same could be done with Eli’s collection – and he has already offered help for MOCA to stay independent – and in the neighborhood.
There is also sufficient land for a mixed use component to help pay for the costs of the long term home for MOCA's permanent collections. There is also the possibility for reconfiguring the final phase of the Grand Avenue project to coordinate with these efforts.
Now I have already walked all these sites with various civic leaders – and each one of them has agreed – this is a fully physically feasible project if there is the political will to make it happen.
And the good news is that there are so many choices – a final decision does not need to be made right now. All that is needed from the city is a commitment that certain pieces of city owned land will be reserved for MOCA and the Getty and the Broad Foundation – and then the exact details can be worked out later. But this would then enable MOCA to build its board and start the fund rising once they know the land has been secured.
So if anyone at MOCA – or the Getty – or at Eli’s Foundation – wants to take a walk on Bunker Hill – give me a call at 213-804-8396. And be sure to bring your walking shoes.
Next – Part Three – What LA REALLY needs to be a world class art capital. But give me a day or two more for that one…