Art Knowledge Needed to Run Museum

* Your Dec. 18 article “OCMA Revises Goals to Lure Chief Curator,” regarding the Orange County Museum of Art having no chief curator for 15 months and changing and expanding its mission, had a sense of deja vu.

One has to question the efficacy of the OCMA board’s “professionalism” utilizing business practices of marketing art as a product, constantly changing mission statements and hiring headhunters. Might it be easier retaining staff if the focus was having an interest in and knowledge of art?

The OCMA new mission of “innovation” and “independent thinking” is consistent with OCMA’s predecessor, the Newport Harbor Art Museum, which was well-respected and very much on the leading edge, focusing on California art from 1945 to the present.

Using merger and acquisition skills, the former Newport Harbor board, ascertaining that its museum’s success was not grand enough, set its sights on the history, art collection, endowment and mission of the Laguna Art Museum. In 1996, Newport Harbor changed its name to OCMA and adopted the same mission as the Laguna Art Museum, which focuses on California art from 1900 to the present. Laguna, the oldest cultural institution in Orange County, appropriately includes a focus on the earlier part of the 20th century covering the important Laguna Impressionism and modern art eras. OCMA tantalized the old Laguna Art board to accede to a merger which was eventually overturned by those interested in preserving the culture of Laguna Beach and the independence of Laguna Art Museum.


Unfortunately, much damage was done. Currently, OCMA retains half of Laguna Art Museum’s endowment and has effective control over the supposedly jointly controlled Laguna art collection, which is about two-thirds the “6,000-piece permanent art collection” that The Times noted.

As a longtime supporter and member of both museums, I have always wished Newport Harbor and OCMA well. I wish OCMA well on its new expanded and grander mission and its search for capable staff. However, to effectively address its ongoing problems, enhanced board interest in and knowledge of art is undoubtedly still a prerequisite.


Former chair


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