With the news this week that the Museum of Contemporary Art on Grand Avenue is in dire financial straits and might have to merge with another institution, or even close, in the not too distant future, the time has again come for this city to step up.
I’d like to make a proposal to the MOCA board and to the civic angels of Los Angeles. I’ll step up if you do too. The Broad Art Foundation is prepared to make a significant investment in MOCA -- $30 million -- with the expectation that the museum’s board and others join in this effort to solve the institution’s financial problems. It is vital that the museum remain on Grand Avenue, keep its collection and continue its tradition of world-class exhibitions.
This is not a one-philanthropist town. MOCA’s needs are great and will require the financial assistance of numerous supporters. Already, civic leaders and artists have begun to rally behind the museum to keep its doors open. But with a global recession that has hit every American’s pocketbook, charitable giving has declined.
The philanthropic community must not turn its back on MOCA. We must make it one of our civic priorities.
I was the founding chairman of MOCA in 1979, working closely with then-Mayor Tom Bradley to create a contemporary art museum for the city in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Working with city officials, we also opened the “Temporary Contemporary” in Little Tokyo. Since then, MOCA has been enjoyed by millions of Angelenos and by visitors from around the world for nearly three decades.
The two downtown Los Angeles locations -- including the iconic Grand Avenue building designed by Arata Isozaki and the renovation of the Temporary Contemporary (now known as the Geffen Contemporary) by Frank Gehry -- make MOCA the most important contemporary art museum in the world.
The two spaces have been the venue for a host of ambitious and groundbreaking exhibitions, including “Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s,” “Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949-1979,” “WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution,” "© Murakami,” “Andy Warhol Retrospective,” “Robert Rauschenberg: Combines” and “Basquiat.” I believe that MOCA’s exhibitions and engagement with local artists are an important part of the reason that L.A. thrives as a center for artists and art schools.
MOCA also has one of the best and most extensive contemporary art collections in the world. As the board member who negotiated the acquisition of the Abstract Expressionist and Pop Art works in the renowned Panza collection, I know firsthand what a treasure trove of artworks it has. The greatest travesty to come out of MOCA’s current financial crisis would be for it to sell any of its artworks to cover operating deficits -- an action that would be anathema for a museum.
While the MOCA board evaluates its options, the overarching priority should be to keep MOCA independent. Being merged into another institution would destroy the fabric of a great museum and would sacrifice the independent curatorial vision that has created an extraordinary collection and many unparalleled exhibitions.
The loss of MOCA’s downtown location would be a blow to the Grand Avenue project, the $3-billion development project to go up adjacent to Disney Hall. The project is already delayed because of the economic downturn. We cannot lose sight of the promise of downtown’s renaissance as a social, cultural and recreational center for not only those who work and live in the city’s heart but also for the entire Southern California region. The shuttering of MOCA’s Grand Avenue venue would severely set back the burgeoning downtown revitalization.
MOCA is one of our city’s cultural treasures, and it would be tragic both for the cultural health and civic reputation of Los Angeles if this institution ceased to exist. Not since the creation of Disney Hall has a civic issue arisen requiring the bold leadership and collective support of Los Angeles.
We came together to save Disney Hall. We can do it again.
Eli Broad is the founder of KB Home and SunAmerica. He and his wife, Edythe, created the $2.5-billion Broad Foundations to advance entrepreneurship for the public good in education, science and the arts.