MOCA restructuring: Director Klaus Biesenbach to assume a new role

An exterior view of MOCA.
MOCA is restructuring, with director Klaus Biesenbach taking on a new role as artistic director.
(Nick Ut / AP)

Museum of Contemporary Art Director Klaus Biesenbach will take on a new role as artistic director, the museum announced Thursday, in a restructuring that will bring on a yet-to-be-named executive director.

Together, MOCA said, Biesenbach and the executive director will join at the helm to oversee all aspects of the museum. Both will report to the MOCA board.

An email announcing the restructuring went out to MOCA staffers Thursday.

Biesenbach will focus on programming, collections and exhibitions, international and digital outreach as well as fundraising and development, the letter stated. He also will work toward “increasing the museum’s cultural visibility and artist relations, while at the same time growing the museum’s international profile and partnerships.”


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The executive director, the letter read, will steer daily management and operations at the museum, including “establishing key strategic, institutional and capital priorities, long range planning as well as the implementation and advancement of critical initiatives of the museum, including IDEA [Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility] and other staff-forward initiatives.”

Biesenbach and the executive director both will fundraise, but the advancement department, which handles fundraising, will roll up to the executive director.

MOCA Board Chair Maria Seferian wrote in an email that a two-pronged leadership structure “makes great sense for the strong future of the museum.”

“This is a natural progression of MOCA’s growth and successes, and we are excited by what the strong partnership between Klaus and the executive director will allow us to accomplish,” Seferian stated. “Klaus has made incredible advances possible under his leadership, and this new structure allows us to invest even further in his exceptional artistic vision, his extraordinary fundraising results and his creative and dynamic development of new initiatives for the museum.”

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At the start of the pandemic in March, MOCA laid off 97 part-time employees; 69 full-time MOCA staffers took full or partial furloughs or a significant salary reduction. That included Biesenbach, who the museum said took the largest pay cut.

As of September all furloughed full-time employees had returned to work. Most front-line part-time staffers were laid off, but some part-time and temporary staffers working in the exhibitions and audio visual departments returned to work in the fall.

The museum, which made general admission free as of January 2020, lost potential revenue on two special exhibitions for 2020, “Pipilotti Rist: Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor,” which was postponed, and “Gerhard Richter: Painting After All” which was canceled. Both were to charge $18 for admission.

Revenue and membership at the museum have plummeted from fiscal year 2019 to 2020: Revenue has dropped 26%, membership 32%. The museum’s endowment remains at $150 million, the highest it’s been, MOCA representative Sarah Stifler said.

The COVID-19 crisis and the myriad social justice issues it illuminated as well as the urgent need for private funding at MOCA, played into the restructuring, the letter stated.

“It is now more important than ever to examine and elevate the role of cultural institutions and to adapt in order to meet this moment and stay accountable to the needs of our community and our team,” the letter read “We recognize the need to prioritize an investment in our team. We also feel the weight of limited governmental support for museums like MOCA, leading to a heavy reliance on private fundraising. With these pressing priorities in mind, we have concluded that the singular role of one director to oversee [every aspect of] a museum of our size cannot best further our mission and serve our community and team.”

The international search for an executive director will start “promptly,” Stifler said. A search firm has not yet been hired.

“While we are open to all candidates,” Seferian said, “we are looking for someone who has understanding of and experience in the museum environment. Our search will seek to connect with a diverse candidate pool.”

Biesenbach will assume his new post once the executive director is hired.

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