About the closing of the Portland Craft Museum

Crafthausers:

Below are two viewpoints. Beyond lamenting the loss of the museum, what are your thoughts about fiscal responsibility? Who is "supposed to" make up for losses like these? What considerations other than financial would you like to raise in this case?

Looking forward to your thoughts. Post in the comment segment below.

The news that Pacific Northwest College of Art is going to close the doors of the Museum of Contemporary Craft landed on Wednesday. We posted the news as quickly as possible on ArtsWatch, but lots of questions remained.

I interviewed interim president Casey Mills and PNCA exhibitions director Mack McFarland on Thursday to find out more about the absorption of the museum into a new Center for Contemporary Art & Culture, to be housed at PNCA, as well as the decision-making process and rationale behind this radical outcome.

The Museum of Contemporary Craft dates back to 1937, after all, and during its life it has been an important flagship for Portland’s large crafts community, especially those concerned with ceramics. More recently, it has helped make Portland part of the national and international conversation around craft and art, without losing sight of our local history. Its failure to make it on its own is a blow to the city in many ways, which I’ll be discussing in subsequent stories.

But first we need to understand what is happening and why PNCA took the path it did.

Here’s what we know:

  • The last days of the museum at its Northwest Davis location will be at the end of April, and the museum’s 14,300 square foot space will go on the market. Mills said a price hasn’t been determined and that he has no buyer in hand for the property. The museum shop will close in April.
  • Three full-time and four part-time employees will be let go; three museum employees will be absorbed by PNCA.
  • The museum, which is organized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, will continue as the Center for Contemporary Art & Culture under the leadership of McFarland. The Center will comprise three exhibition spaces in PNCA’s 515 Building on Northwest Broadway.
  • Some of the museum’s planned exhibitions will be shown at the Center. One of those, for example, will be Design and Craft of Prosthetics. Other center exhibitions the next several months will include work by David Horvitz, Colleen Smith, Letha Wilson, and Futurefarmers, and the launch of an exhibitions program with artist-run spaces including Vox Populi (Philadelphia) and Machine Project (LA).
  • Portions of the collection, which is worth more than $1 million (the museum’s 990 tax form for the fiscal year ending June 2014 valued it at $1,285,873), will be shown at the center and PNCA’s materials lab, and the rest kept in storage. Images of the collection’s 1100 or so objects will be digitized, thanks to a Ford Family Foundation grant, and made available to the public.

PNCA’s position on the decision to transform the craft museum into a center that doesn’t have “craft” in its name is pretty simple. Since PNCA took over the operation of the museum in 2009 (when the museum was in a dire financial position), the museum has lost $200,000 per year on average, according to Mills, and more than that in recent years. The original financial plan for the museum developed by PNCA in 2009 started with deficits in that range, but by year three, the museum was expected to leave the negative numbers behind. Instead, they were getting worse, President Mills said.

Mills didn’t say exactly how large a deficit the museum racked up in the last fiscal year, but from a look at its 990s from the fiscal year ending in June 2014 (the most recent available), the $200,000 average since 2009 sounds about right. In 2014 revenue minus expenses equaled -$237,599 on a total budget of $773,496. The year before, -$281,862. And for the year ending in 2011, the number was -$153,379.

 

Continue reading this article in the Oregon Arts Watch

Image above: Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn (Ceramic Works, 5000 BCE – 2010 CE), installation view, 2010, Museum of Contemporary Craft. Photo by: Jake Stangel

Here's another opinion:

What the Closing of the MoCC Tells Us

by Perry A. Price, Education Director, American Craft Council

(Excerpt)

... Rail as we might against the decision of the college, it must be acknowledged that the financial difficulties of the museum that led to oversight by the college and ultimate closure also face numerous small arts institutions and organizations nationwide. The role and value of the MoCCs of the world are overshadowed by the METs, MoMAs, and MFAs. Small arts organizations typically receive less attention for their exhibitions, smaller bequests of objects or funds from patrons, and publish fewer tomes of scholarship than major-name or flagship museums, schools, or institutions. But they are, particularly for contemporary craft, an invaluable contributor to the success and longevity of the field. Small museums drive innovation in curation and exhibition practices, pose current and cutting-edge questions, and are able to experiment to a greater degree than encyclopedic temples of art. They are embedded in their communities, supporting local guilds, encouraging new visitors, and developing relationships. And, not infrequently, they are the first museum exhibition venues for emerging artists. When fiscal support for these smaller institutions falters, the field as a whole bears the loss.  

But in this instance, the future financial liability of MoCC for PNCA is only part of the picture. More ominous is the seeming disregard by the college of the mission of the museum and the work it interprets. The move to jointly administer the museum in 2009 now appears to have been a Faustian bargain; it preserved MoCC for the time being, but put its future in the hands of an institution that doesn’t appear to care greatly about contemporary craft. PNCA is not the first to subsume “craft” under “art” or “arts” in the renaming of an institution; the renaming of the American Craft Museum as the Museum of Arts and Design in 2002 and the dropping of “craft” from the name of California College of the Arts in 2003 have been dutifully cited in the devaluing of craft as a category of art. PNCA’s proposed title of Center for Contemporary Art & Culture is even more anemic – broad to the point of ambiguity and providing little clarity of what it hopes to interpret. And it reflects an unfortunate trend that extends beyond the microcosm of craft. Even as the boundaries between disciplines waver and become increasingly porous – a remarkable and exhilarating development to observe and unpack – the manner of art interpretation is increasingly restricted. The craft world’s discomfort with the contemporary art world’s new interest in fiber or ceramics isn’t that the usual gatekeepers or oracles of craft have been circumvented, it is that every “rediscovery” of an “overlooked” career or material dismisses previous critical interpretation, scholarship, and support, the hard work already done, in favor of the dominant historical and critical paradigm in art. And it affects all categories of art, from design to dance. It is the patronizing voice of authority, saying “don’t worry, we’ll take it from here.”

...


- See more at: http://craftcouncil.org/post/what-closing-mocc-tells-us#sthash.WKSP...

Crafthausers:

Feel free to comment. Beyond lamenting the loss of the museum, what are your thoughts about fiscal responsibility? Who is "supposed to" make up for losses like these? What considerations other than financial would you like to raise in this case?

Looking forward to your thoughts.

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Comment by The Justified Sinner on February 7, 2016 at 3:20pm

Alas! This is going to be a pattern for the future unless there is a change in how governments perceive the "value" within art or craft. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen as the media-government machine has done a fine job of undermining the value of art or craft within the public as a whole, rendering it as worthless and a laughing-stock.

Comment by Harriete E Berman on February 7, 2016 at 1:16pm

It is devastating to hear about the closing of the  Museum of Contemporary Craft. I had exhibited my work there several times in the past. Under the leadership of Namita Wiggers, the Museum of Contemporary Craft had exhibitions about big ideas, along with breaking conventional boundaries of craft. The museums presence in creating a craft community in Portland is irreplaceable.

The article by Perry Price is worth reading.  Here is a quote that I think is an important nugget.
"Small museums drive innovation in curation and exhibition practices, pose current and cutting-edge questions, and are able to experiment to a greater degree than encyclopedic temples of art. They are embedded in their communities, supporting local guilds, encouraging new visitors, and developing relationships. And, not infrequently, they are the first museum exhibition venues for emerging artists."

The online exhibition world and social networks can not replace the role this museum played.

Many small museums have tried to expand their presence and visibility with larger building that eventually prove to be their downfall. The capital campaign for the building doesn't take into account the increased operating expenses. Donors are not inclined to donate money for day to day operating expenses as compared to having their name on the header of a room. The financial losses from operating expenses have doomed many smaller museums/exhibition spaces in the past 10 years. 

Some museums are able to turn their gift shops into viable sources of income. I do know that the gift shop (I think it was called the "Museum Shop") at Museum of Contemporary Craft actually sold a very expense and important example of my work during an exhibition. That was a huge coup for the gift shop. Shortly after that coup the manager was fired. His vision of selling better quality work, rather than lower price gift items was a disconnect with upper level management. (I don't know any more than that.)

I mentioned that example for a reason. The whole craft field seems to be over whelmed with a price conscious agenda as the first priority when competing on price alone will never be a road to success at any level.

I'd like to hear other people's opinions....but decided to add my own to spark the conversation.




 

 






 

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