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MOCA announces fundraising milestone, new (and returning) trustees

September 24, 2009 |  5:54 pm

MOCA exterior

The Museum of Contemporary Art, revealed to be in dire financial straits late last year, said today that it has raised nearly $60 million since December, hailing the figure as indication of a turnaround at the institution.

The downtown museum has also coaxed two disgruntled trustees who quit during the fallout to rejoin the board.

The fundraising total includes December’s $30 million pledge from the Broad Foundation; $16.4 million in trustee gifts; $3 million from individual patrons, $6.7 million from the museum’s annual fund and $3.8 in trustee dues -- a total of $59.9 million.

MOCA chief executive Charles E. Young said in an interview Thursday that the fundraising total, raised in less than a year, is reason for optimism in the wake of the monetary crisis that resulted in staff layoffs, canceled exhibitions and the resignation of museum director Jeremy Strick, who was quickly appointed director of the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas.

"I think it means we’ve come a long way, and we’ve got a long way to go," said Young, who was appointed as the museum's first-ever chief executive in late December to oversee a restructuring of its finances. "This doesn’t mean we can rest on our oars at all. I’m very pleased we’ve done so well, but what we’ve done is to be able to put the museum back on a sound financial basis and to begin to restore the resources that had been lost to the endowment fund."

Around the time the news of MOCA's financial troubles surfaced, a number of the board's trustees resigned -- including former music industry executive Gilbert B. Friesen and art collector and restaurateur Peter Morton, co-founder of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. MOCA also announced Thursday that the two trustees would be returning to the board.

"A number of us have been talking to Gil and Peter over the last six or eight months. ... I came to the conclusion early on that they were people who wanted to come back on the board," Young said. "They wanted only two things: to see that the things had changed and indeed that there had been a turnaround. They have come to the conclusion that that is the case."

Morton said Thursday that "what prompted me to leave was some organizational issues which I'd rather not expand on -- I think most people are aware of them and some of the associated problems." What prompted his return, he said, was "confidence in Eli Broad and what he's already done and what's going to be done in the future. ... I had drinks with Gil Friesen and Eli one evening, and I walked away from that thinking I was really impressed with Eli's vision -- I really made a decision right there. MOCA is one of the leading museums in the world in contemporary art, and I really felt like becoming part of it again."

The museum also announced the election of two new trustees -- Lilly Tartikoff,  president of H. Beale Co., which produces film and television, and Nancy Marks, an arts and education supporter who previously served on the boards of American Ballet Theatre and the Baryshnikov Dance Foundation, among others. Their appointments bring to seven the number of trustees newly elected to MOCA's board this year. Other recently appointed trustees include Carolyn Powers, Darren Star and Marc I. Stern.

The museum also announced a long list of "prominent" co-chairs for its 30th anniversary gala Nov. 14, including chairs Maria Arena Bell and Broad, as well as honorary gala chairs Larry Gagosian and Dasha Zukova. Young said the museum hopes the gala event -- which will include a new performance work conceived by artist Francesco Vezzoli and starring Lady GaGa and dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet --  will raise $3 million.

The executive confirmed that the Geffen Contemporary will re-open to the public as previously announced on Nov. 15 with a major exhibition showcasing more than 500 artworks and more than 200 artists from the museum's permanent collections.

-- Diane Haithman

Photos: MOCA's Grand Avenue campus. Credit: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times.

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