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