Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Corcoran Gallery in DC, MOCA in Los Angeles: two sides of a similar coin

I intended to write a big piece on this topic, but Judith Dobzrynski, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, and now consultant and arts blogger at the Arts Journal blog Real Clear Arts, has two good posts that are much shorter than anything I would write, "New Way-Out Idea To Save LA-MOCA," and "Corcoran Catch-Up: Lesser Of Two Evils Or A Third Choice?."  (The piece on MOCA also suggests that the Hirshorn's plans to build a plastic bubble on top and become a cultural think tank are likely going nowhere, but that's fruit for another post.)

With both she's suggests that at least one additional choice should be explored.  For MOCA, rather than jumping on board with LACMA, she says they need a great director, who can things back on track, that former art dealer Jeffrey Deitsch is out of his depth.  For the Corcoran, she says that the earlier course wasn't a good choice, that Wayne Reynolds might not be the savior that various people and the Post editorial board believe, and that they need another choice (a great director and a good board).

Although for me, I think the Corcoran should be refocused as the city's art museum.  The city doesn't have one.  The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts would be a good model.

For me, it comes down to planning.

1.  Cities need to have wide-ranging cultural plans.

2.  With subplans or elements for the various artistic disciplines and institutions.

3.  Planners typically are uncomfortable making recommendations for agencies above them, or with regard to more "private" organizations, but I think that in terms of scenario planning, being prepared, and best representing the ideals for each discipline, such guidance should be available.

For example, in DC, without such a plan, the city doesn't have much of a role in the discussions about the Corcoran's future.  The Post and others are hot for the money and ideas of Wayne Reynolds, and while Ms. Dobrynski points out he is mostly interested in selling the collection off, at least the terms of the discussion would be broadened, but they are still not broad enough.

Similarly, without such a plan for the city and county, dealing with MOCA is a problem for Los Angeles.  A director without experience running a museum was a bad idea.  Going in with Eli Broad when he didn't step up and offer enough money to get the museum on an even keel was a bad choice too.  So now they are in a similar bind to where they were years ago when Eli Broad stepped in and prevented them from hooking up with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) back then.

Or communities without wide ranging parks plans are left without much recourse, when state parks agencies close "local" parks that also served local residents.

4.  And museums need strong directors, good boards, money and endowments.

And plans need to be direct about that.  MOCA's board has blown up with the involvement of Eli Broad.  Clearly, the Corcoran has been flailing for a long time as well.

5.  And speaking of funding, regional funding mechanisms are the best course and should be discussed in the plan.  Models include Allegheny County Pennsylvania's Regional Asset District, the recent referendum for the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Cuyahoga County Ohio cancer tax for arts (I don't agree with the Cleveland initiative, I think the Allegheny County model is the best, which funds multiple institutions, not just one).

Also see the past blog entries:

- "Cultural resources planning in DC: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."
- "Arts, artistic production, and culture districts revisited"
- "Art is for everyone property tax funding campaign: Detroit Institute of Art"

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At 9:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

in general- the Fairfax development guy Gordon or whatever his name is made a great comment in addition to dissing PG County and the FBI- he said that DC is like California in that we can't get companies to leave the city fast enough. Our city government is made up of PG county residents who have no idea what is going on nor do they care at all about retaining the viability of the city as a real center. We are going to lose- and have already lost- every justification for us existing if this nonsense is allowed to continue. It is astounding when one realizes how many agencies and businesses have already left DC since the 1960's era. It is- or should be- a scandal. No one is listening- no one is watching- and few seem to care.

At 1:02 PM, Anonymous Christopher said...

While I do agree with this -- the coordination at the city level in Chicago for their arts planning was rather amazing when I interned there, they are quite heavy handed -- that kind of planning requires a strong connection between the financial and political powers that be. Something Chicago of course has with the Pritzkers. Cities tend to have one patron that comes to dominate the arts funding in each city. Broad in LA, Perlman in NYC. The whole issue of trying to move the Whitney to the Meatpacking required a whole multilevel discussion between the city, Perlman and the museum and the fight nearly ended up in courts.

These are surmountable but people who hold the purse strings in the arts are particularly not used to being bossed around by the city. That's something to consider.

At 2:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the way I see the problem with the Corcoran has more to do with the idea that our city "government" in DC basically is allowing every significant cultural and employment node & nexus to decamp to the suburbs or further out. Few large cities have this problem- and few large cities are run by people who are either NOT from the city or live somewhere else and have no stake in what goes wrong or right here. In DC we have a huge proportion of our workers int he city gov't that live in PG- and I put a lot of the blame of our problems on this alone. They really could care less if this or that leaves the city- just so long as we can use grandma's address and send our kids to school in DC while we go to work for the MAN...


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