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MOCA has gifts, officers and trustees; pronounces finances fixed*

June 26, 2009 |  2:50 pm

MOCA L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art says it has raised $56.9 million in the six months since it accepted a helping hand from Eli Broad, who in a MOCA news release characterizes the feat as "the biggest turnaround of any cultural institution in recent history."

Said Charles E. Young, the museum's chief executive, who was asked by Broad to serve for an interim period while MOCA got back on its financial feet: "I am pleased that we have enabled a successful turnaround in such a short amount of time."

At their board meeting Thursday, MOCA's trustees elected Maria Arena Bell to join incumbent David Johnson as co-chair. Bell, the co-creative producer of "The Young and the Restless" soap opera, has been a longtime MOCA supporter and is co-chairing the museum's 30th anniversary gala in November with Broad. The Bel-Air resident's husband, William J. Bell Jr., was a MOCA trustee from 1997 until last year. She also has affiliations with New York's Guggenheim Museum, the Aspen Art Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington.

Tom Unterman, the investment executive who co-chaired MOCA with film producer Johnson during its crisis, and had led the museum's finance committee, becomes a life trustee -- an honor, also held by Broad, that doesn't include voting rights.

Broad has anted up more than half the $56.9 million himself through the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which pledged $30 million in December as the cornerstone of MOCA's self-rescue plan. The remaining $26.9 million includes $16.4 million in special rescue-giving from members of MOCA's board, $1.9 million in regular board giving toward ongoing operations, $3 million in gifts from patrons who aren't board members, and $5.6 million collected from various other sources, including corporate donations, fundraising events, and the fees paid by museum members.

The $56.9 million total, however, depends on a certain amount of chicken counting of still-unhatched eggs. Of the Broad pledge, half is a regular gift with no strings attached, to be paid over five years, with the money earmarked for funding exhibitions. The other $15 million isn't quite so bankable -- it's contingent on MOCA coming up with a dollar-for-dollar match, with those contributions and the Broad match pegged to replenish an endowment that Broad has said totaled $5 million last December.

Gradual borrowing from what was once a $38 million endowment to pay operating expenses (rather than the Arts Management 101 method that calls for either raising the needed money or cutting spending) is what put MOCA in need of a rescue in the first place.

The recovery bid involves cuts as well as fundraising, as MOCA makes do with an operating budget of $15.5 million, down from pre-crisis budgets that had exceeded $20 million.

At their board meeting Thursday, the museum's trustees appropriated $4.25 million toward the endowment, drawing a matching amount from the Broad Foundation. That leaves MOCA $10.75 million short of having raised the $56.9 million it claims. Still, raising $46.15 million in six months is an accomplishment.

Broadpic As for whether MOCA's financial comeback is "the biggest turnaround of any IrwinJacobs cultural institution in recent history," as Broad, pictured at left, says, there's competition from the San Diego Symphony. That orchestra went silent for 2 1/2 years after going bankrupt in 1996, regrouped, then had its future secured with a staggering $100 million donation and bequest in 2002 from Qualcomm chief executive Irwin Jacobs, pictured at right, and his wife, Joan.

In other MOCA board business Thursday, trustees re-elected Jeffrey Soros as president, and Fred Sands, who recently donated $2 million, was chosen as vice chair. Three new trustees were elected: writer-producer Darren Star, whose credits include "Sex and the City," "Melrose Place" and "Beverly Hills, 90210"; Carolyn Clark Powers, who also is on the collectors' committee at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Music Center's dance association; and Marc I. Stern, an investment executive who chairs Los Angeles Opera and is a board member of the Music Center, California Science Center and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. 

Young, the MOCA chief executive, said there has been discussion of how to proceed with the board's most crucial task besides fundraising: hiring a new museum director to replace Jeremy Strick, who in December took the fall for the financial distress, but soon landed on his feet as director of the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. So far, Young said, no decisions have been made on a time frame, appointing a search committee of board members, or on whether to hire a search firm to identify possible candidates.

-- Mike Boehm 

*An early version of this story incorrectly stated Fred Sands' title as vice president.

Related stories

Museum of Contemporary Art: Bigger, bolder and poorer

MOCA accepts Eli Broad's $30 million lifeline, appoints CEO

Financially strapped MOCA announces layoffs

MOCA cuts staff and exhibitions to balance its budget


Photos: MOCA's Grand Avenue building, reflected in a nearby office tower; Eli Broad; Irwin Jacobs. Credits: Brian Vander Brug/Los Angeles Times; Jamie Rector/Bloomberg News (Broad); Tracie Morris/Bloomberg News (Jacobs).

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