In an op-ed in the Sunday L.A. Times aimed at defusing the controversy over curator Paul Schimmel's departure, museum patron Eli Broad expresses his support for the direction the Museum of Contemporary Art is headed. He's fairly critical of some past practices — "the museum has also curated a number of exhibitions that were costly and poorly attended, often exceeding $100 per visitor" — and says he's happy with controversial director Jeffrey Deitch.
Broad credits Deitch with helping to end a troubled era at the museum that followed the 1999 departure of Richard Koshalek to head Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. At the time, MOCA had an endowment of about $40 million, Broad writes.
In the succeeding years, MOCA's annual expenses spiraled out of control, rising to an annual budget of $24 million. Its staff swelled to twice the size of its peer institutions. Attendance dropped to a low of 148,000, and MOCA dipped into its endowment to fund its operating expenses, drawing down the endowment to $5 million. Had MOCA's endowment been properly invested, and had it not been raided, it could have amounted to about $100 million today. When the Broad Foundations stepped in with a $30-million grant, including a $15-million challenge grant, at the end of 2008, it was to save MOCA.
At the end of 2008, MOCA had a contentious culture, and a number of trustees had resigned. Those who stayed on the board couldn't agree on the future direction of MOCA. Since Deitch's arrival, the culture at MOCA has improved dramatically. A number of new trustees joined the board, infusing much-needed energy and fiscal discipline. It took some time to get the right team in place. MOCA now has a strong chief operating officer in Michael Harrison and a good development operation. And with the recent personnel changes, Deitch and the board expect the team to work together more effectively. By demonstrating that MOCA has a prudent financial and exhibition plan, the museum is expected to attract an even greater number of members, trustees and donors.
MOCA's endowment is now pushing $20 million; next year its budget is $14.3 million, and in 2011, attendance was more than 400,000 — 2 1/2 times what it was when the budget was $24 million....
I applaud the decision of MOCA's director, board leadership and board in right-sizing the staff and adopting a budget that they expect will be balanced in the coming year and in future years.
As for Schimmel, who predated Deitch at MOCA, Broad says he's "a brilliant curator, but the board members recognized the director's right to put his own team together."
Media note: Arts blogger Lee Rosenbaum, Christopher Knight of the LA Times and Robert Storr of the Yale School of Art discussed the future of MOCA on KCRW's Which Way, LA? this week.