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MOCA Reports Commitments to “Nearly Triple” Museum’s Endowment (and requests a CultureGrrl correction)

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In an announcement that just hit my inbox, LA MOCA exulted that its trustees “have obtained commitments over the past two weeks that will boost the endowment to more than $60 million, a record high in the museum’s 34-year history and a reflection of the board’s commitment to keep MOCA as a museum dedicated solely to contemporary art.”

This is putting their money where their mouths are: MOCA had sent mixed messages last Tuesday regarding its trustees’ ambiguous three-sentence statement about MOCA’s future independence. It wasn’t clear whether merger talks with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and/or collaborations with the University of Southern California and the National Gallery were still in play as ways of saving the financially ailing MOCA; last week’s statement said that “all strategic options” were still being explored. Notwithstanding the trustees’ stated “commitment to independence,” such relationships could have the effect of compromising the museum’s autonomy (a preferable outcome to possibly losing the financially frail museum all together).

Even today’s upbeat statement falls short of saying that such collaborations are off the table. It also doesn’t tell us who has made the pledges, when they are due (next month? in 10 years?) and what, if any, strings are attached (as in the 2008 Eli Broad bailout).

I have queries in with LA MOCA about all these things, but the museum thus far hasn’t been forthcoming in answering my or other journalists’ questions regarding the museum’s current difficulties and possible remedies.

Nor have I yet received a response to my questions regarding MOCA’s assertion that I owed the museum a correction on my last post regarding its tribulations.

On Friday I wrote:

The board that had allowed MOCA to financially implode was demonstrably deficient—so much so that the Attorney General’s office mounted an investigation, found that the museum had broken state laws and, in 2009, ordered corrective action.

Over this past weekend, I received three e-mails from the museum’s press office that were all variations on this:

The Attorney General’s office did not find that MOCA or its Trustees had broken state laws. It began an investigation in 2008, which it completed in 2009 and it did not find any violation of law. Please correct.

The link in my offending sentence brought my readers to Mike Boehm‘s April 2010 LA Times report that said:

The Museum of Contemporary Art didn’t just spend itself into a financial crisis—it broke state laws [emphasis added] while doing it, an investigation by the California attorney general’s office has determined.

After asking, to no avail, why MOCA felt the LA Times was wrong on this and why there was no appended correction, I decided to dig out from my computer files the actual November 2009 letter from the California Attorney General’s office to MOCA, which had found fault with MOCA’s withdrawals from its endowment.

Here’s the relevant paragraph, as it appears in the AG’s letter:

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I have twice asked MOCA to explain to me why saying (as the AG did) that MOCA’s withdrawals “did not follow [the] standard” set by two laws (UMIFA and UPMIFA) is different from saying that it “had broken state laws.” While the AG’s wording is milder, it seems to me that this is a distinction without a difference.

Reasonable lawyers and museum administrators may disagree, and I’ll post a response here if and when I receive one. [UPDATE: More on this, here.]

Whatever the past glitches, it’s gratifying to learn (from the museum’s just released statement) that today’s good news could be only the beginning of a rosier future for MOCA:

The recent board commitments are part of MOCA Independence, a…campaign to…bring the endowment to $100 million launched to help ensure the museum’s ongoing independence, which will be chaired by board President Jeffrey Soros and trustee Eugenio Lopez.

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