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MOCA goes for the money

March 27, 2013|By Carla Hall
  • The Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles is seeking to boost its endowment.
The Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles is seeking to boost… (Los Angeles Times )

It looks like the trustees of the Museum of Contemporary Art have put their money where their mouths are. They have been talking about an ambitious plan to quadruple the roughly $23 million endowment to $100 million, and on Tuesday, they put out an announcement that they had obtained commitments in the last two weeks for enough money to get them to $60 million.

That’s a great start, and a quick one too. The Times' editorial board recently said we’d like to see MOCA remain independent if that’s financially possible. And there was every reason to worry it might not be possible. In the bad old days, MOCA squandered its endowment, then got bailed out by life trustee Eli Broad. The rest of the board raised money too, but the knock on the members -- all well heeled and wealthy enough to pony up $75,000 in annual dues plus far more in various contributions -- is that they simply don’t raise enough. There are all sorts of theories on why -- Los Angeles is a tough town, in general, to raise big bucks for anything that’s not a slasher movie guaranteed to make a whopping return on its investment. There isn’t a huge tradition of civic philanthropy. Certainly there are and have been philanthropists supporting cultural institutions. And MOCA has benefited from them. But MOCA needs to tap more and convince them the museum is worthy of bigger amounts.

It would be fantastic if MOCA has turned the corner on this effort and revved up its fundraising to warp speed. The current commitments to boost the endowment are collectively from about a dozen people, most of them board members. And the board has publicly vowed to keep raising money until it can get the endowment to $100 million. 

Last week, MOCA announced that it would stay independent, seeming to also quash the possibilities of merging with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art or become part of USC. The idea of having some kind of arrangement with the National Gallery of Art -- perhaps for advice on operations management -- seems to still be out there.

At this moment, MOCA's trustees should be concentrating on raising money. If they’re really on a roll, they owe it to the museum and the people in the city who love it to just go for it.

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