CAP UCLA’s Kristy Edmunds, a key leader in L.A. arts, to leave for MASS MoCA

A portrait photograph of a woman
Kristy Edmunds, CAP UCLA executive and artistic director, has been named the new director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
(From Kristy Edmunds)

Kristy Edmunds, longtime executive and artistic director of Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, will be director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, better known as MASS MoCA, the museum said Thursday.

Edmunds replaces Director Joseph C. Thompson, who has been at MASS MoCA for 32 years.

“I have been fascinated with MASS MoCA from the second I learned about it decades ago,” Edmunds said in the announcement. She added later: “There’s an aliveness charging through the campus itself that manages to honor the past while being in the vivid present, and I have never been there without feeling that I discovered something astonishing.”

MASS MoCA conducted a 10-month international search “among a deep and diverse pool of very strong candidates,” museum foundation board chair Timur Galen said in the announcement. The board decision was unanimous.


“Kristy brings an exceptional record of artistic vision, community engagement and leadership to MASS MoCA,” said Galen, who cited Edmunds’ care and commitment to artists and her track record presenting projects in varied venues and environments around the world.

Edmunds has been a leading voice in the arts in Los Angeles, having steered CAP UCLA since 2011. The organization, which has a full-time staff of 45 and an annual budget of $8 million to $10 million, presents contemporary dance, music and theater as well as a range of experimental projects — about 60 performances per season, held at UCLA’s Royce Hall as well as other locations around Los Angeles.

During Edmunds’ tenure, CAP UCLA presented performance artist Taylor Mac’s “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music,” staged as four six-hour chapters at downtown L.A.’s Theatre at Ace Hotel in 2018. Times classical music critic Mark Swed called it “ruthlessly punishing, infuriating, alarming, charming, impressive and obsessive like no other music theater.”

In 2019 CAP UCLA and Center Theatre Group presented “The White Album,” director Lars Jan and Obie-winning actress Mia Barron’s multimedia, participatory tribute to Joan Didion’s essay of the same name. It “radiated with a light hallucinatory touch,” said Times theater critic Charles McNulty.

In March 2020 — prior to COVID-19 cancellations — CAP UCLA presented “Parable of the Sower,” an opera by mother-and-daughter folksingers Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon based on Octavia E. Butler’s 1993 sci-fi novel of the same name. Other highlights include 2015’s “Desdemona,” written by Toni Morrison and directed by Peter Sellars; William Kentridge’s 2017 chamber opera, “Refuse the Hour”; and 2013’s “Shun-kin,” weaving love and sadomasochism, by the Japanese writer Jun’ichiro Tanizaki.

During the pandemic — when performance venues were shuttered to the public — CAP UCLA commissioned new films and productions that could be accessed, for free, on an online channel.

Next month the organization is co-presenting — with L.A.’s Hammer Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art — the acclaimed climate-crisis opera “Sun & Sea,” which earned the top prize at the 2019 Venice Biennale. It makes its West Coast premiere at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary on Oct. 14.

Under Edmunds, CAP UCLA acquired the Crest Theater in West L.A. in 2018 with the goal of restoring the historic cinema and using it to help support small, independent projects and emerging creative producers. The newly named UCLA Nimoy Theater (philanthropist Susan Bay Nimoy is a lead donor, and the venue is named for her late husband, “Star Trek” actor Leonard Nimoy) is aiming for a fall 2022 debut. The capital campaign is more than 80% complete. Edmunds has said that she’ll stay on at CAP UCLA as an artistic advisor at least until the project is finished.


The L.A. arts scene has seen seismic leadership changes of late. This week the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills announced that its inaugural artistic director, Paul Crewes, will be departing at the end of the year. His replacement hasn’t yet been named. A week before that, the Museum of Contemporary Art appointed Johanna Burton as its first female director after director Klaus Biesenbach accepted a job in Berlin. In June, Center Theatre Group’s longtime artistic director, Michael Ritchie, announced plans to retire from the city’s largest nonprofit theater company.

Edmunds has been immersed in the performing and multidisciplinary arts for three decades. She served as the inaugural consulting artistic director for New York’s Park Avenue Armory. She also served as artistic director of the Melbourne International Arts Festival in Australia and was the executive and artistic director of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art in Oregon, where she launched its annual Time-Based Art Festival.

“A whole creative ecosystem exists in North Adams,” she said of heading to MASS MoCA, “to realize the vision of artists — from inception to monumentally scaled completion, and everything in between — while also enhancing the economic benefits to the community. It is a tremendous honor to be joining MASS MoCA and supporting this outstanding team of people who maintain a creative pipeline of possibility in one place.”