Here's a follow up on the PNCA/MoCC
. In the past week I've spoken with both Tom Manley, president of the Pacific
Northwest College of Art and Kathy Abraham Chairman of the Museum of Contemporary
Craft's Board... so PORT has some important details for you now. I apologize for
this having taken me so long but I've got some major projects of my own at the
PNCA President, optimist and soon to be craft/design Museum President Tom Manley
Despite all I've heard, I'm still just as cautious as before... though I feel PNCA
is less in danger of jumping the shark and damaging itself. The school also develops an opportunity to launch its curatorial studies program much faster. That's important since I consider PNCA's
fate to be nearly analogous to Portland's goals
as a serious art city.
concerns on PORT about endowments, public perception, institutional capabilities
are pretty much common sense issues
and I suspect anyone
who thinks otherwise has never sat on a non profit board at a major institution,
and or doesn't have enough contact and shared confidences amongst Portland's
art community professionals to know that these issues are exactly what people are discussing.
Also, Manley made the great point that not
long ago PNCA was in a very similar situation to MoCC
... having moved over a decade ago with
no endowment and an expanded mission. Still, that cuts both ways, is this a good
risk? If the new curatorial studies MFA is successful it makes a lot of sense (PNCA keeps its momentum while waiting for the 511 building to be completed). Right now all curatorial
issues are under the Provost Greg Ware's purview (in an oversight not hands on kinda way) and without a distinct
curatorial program for the college, the somewhat patchwork results (both excellent
and otherwise at the Feldman) are the school's most inconsistent element. The museum does bring a lot more exhibition program rigor to the school.
Will the addition of the museum rectify that entire situation, no... but it will
help. Manley indicated that once the 511 building is rennovated a director of
exhibitions coordinating the museum and the 5-7 other "academic" galleries might be in
order... (disclosure: I had a solo show at PNCA in 2008)
Now let's get to specifics about the merger:
As we were first to point out, the issue of an adequate and intelligently allocated
is still the key question here
. Both Manley and Abraham see it as a cornerstone
as well. And, yes PNCA will be implementing a fundraising campaign for the museum, consisting
of both pressing general fund and endowment dollar needs (endowment funds are
tougher to raise). It's a question of short term needs and long excellence. I'll also get back to how this situation developed and why
MoCC ultimately lacked a way to pull itself out of financial quicksand, later.
The success of this new fundraising campaign and the ratio of immediately needed
general fund dollars to endowment will have a lot to do with the success of
this project. If the museum has less than a 3-5 million dollar endowment by
2014 this might not work. Manley cautions that merely looking at endowment #'s
isn't the only measure of success... I agree but those #'s if allocated properly
will indicate how much leverage and autonomy the museum will have within the
Ultimately, it's a question of whether they will be a strong museum
or a weak one. Manley and Abraham are both at this point committed to a strong
museum model but time will tell and this fundraising campaign is a very difficult
thing to pull off at the moment. Everyone seems to know it too. Furthermore,
PNCA will alter its current capital campaign goals
to reflect the needs of this
merger. The actual #'s and the results of those efforts when finalized will
Legal status and governance:
Another key to this merger is the Museum of Contemporary Craft will be required
to retain it's separate 501.c3 status at least through 2014 because of the complicated
"new market tax credits" used to purchase the museum's building. It
might seem like a minor point but the legal separation has several major consequences,
which make this integration more likely to work through paradoxically leaving
an escape route if things dont work out. Despite this fact both PNCA and the museum are working in good
faith to make this succeed. (I have no idea why this part of the plan was not
Let's face it this is a somewhat forced situation and rather unlike the typical
organic way most university museums develop (where a wealthy patron gives cash
and often a collection ala UC Berkeley
, The Hammer
[which lost its benefactor shortly after opening so had a governance vacuum], etc.). Instead, we have
a very cash strapped aspiring museum needing to merge because it can't pull
itself out of a financial catch 22.
The separate 501.c3 is a major factor because this means the Museum will be
required to have a separate board of directors from the school's governing board
. Yes, there can
be overlap between the two boards and Tom Manley will sit on both (pretty standard for university museums)
but I believe this body dedicated to due diligence for the museum will keep
their vision and agendas more autonomous... as a course of action even Manley
will put his museum board member hat on and think what is best for the museum. All arts professionals compartmentalize
their lives and this is just another case in point. Tom also indicated that
the museum will also have an acquisitions board (if they don't already have
so yes as expected they are following "best practices"
so flattery of PNCA donors doesn't override the integrity of the
, which is ultimately MoCC curator Namita Wiggers and the acquisition
committee's job. With a committee, Wiggers will have a supporting body within
the college structure too (keeping her from being isolated politically).
By having legal separation (though wholly owned by PNCA) it gives this new governance
arrangement two distinct voices and some checks and balances. This is a good
thing because the school's agenda (teaching first) and the museum's (collection
first) merely intersect and this structure explores and formalizes that intersection
technically this isn't a museum of PNCA history it will be a craft and design
museum with increasing emphasis on design than before the merger.
The museum's sporadic but potentially rich intersection with the college's chief
aims is both a strength and a weakness and like any good relationship it's the
working balance that matters. It's a wait and see situation. Manley and Abraham
are upbeat, many PNCA staff are bemused and resigned (i.e. bureaucratically
watchful that the museum enhances their activities not drain them of funds).
Overall, the school and museum ultimately have somewhat different goals, balancing student
needs and the demands a collection places on an institution. They can mutually
exist with those different agendas but it will take a lot of care and some institutional fences. It allows
the museum and school to grow together or apart depending how responsive PNCA
is to its new division and vice versa.
For a more extreme benchmark comparison, the Rose
Museum at Brandeis
does not have a separate legal status from the University
like MoCC will have. Happily, so far the plan is that MoCC will retain its members
as constituents as well (i.e. if you give money to the museum or get a membership
that money supports the museum not student scholarships etc.) This will help
out PNCA actually... as MoCC will be expected to fix some of its own problems through
increased membership and targeted fundraising. Right now they can't do that with
their lack of cash, lack of key fundraising staff etc
. that's where PNCA
helps them get out of the catch 22, it takes money and a director of development
to raise large amounts of money). We will see how the final deal works out.
This is a somewhat forced situation and forced situations rarely go as planned. It might
have miraculous results coordinating design, education art and rigorous craft
or it might simply end up like two dancing partners who get in each other's
Interpreting the mistakes of the past:
The museum got into their lack of endowment mess because their capital campaign (2006)
was foreshortened by the tantalizing opportunity of moving into the Desoto building
in the Pearl District (not that they lost connection with their donor base as some have surmised). The time frame for that move left only a year for fund raising, which was
really too short to raise the 5 million dollars (or so) they really needed as
an endowment. Hence, they made the move without any endowment and used the funds
raised purely for capital costs. Again, then director David Cohen (and the then board that approved
it) are going to take the brunt of the blame for that decision but it made sense at the time.
Now 74 years
old the museum really hasn't been a true museum its entire life. Most of that
time it was a club with a collection and a sales a gallery... hence the reason
a 74 year old institution did not have an endowment. In my mind a museum must
have an endowment to be considered a true museum.
Last ditch campaign?
To answer one key question, why wasn't there a more ardent campaign to fix the
museum before seeking a merger? Basically, MoCC had a leadership/funding vacuum
so severe in 2008 that it could not effectively undertake such a necessary endeavor.
By comparison sake MoCC was in infinitely worse shape than MOCA was at the same time.
MOCA was living off its endowment, which is very bad
but MoCC had no endowment
and was living off a loan made against its building as an asset, which is incredibly
bad. In Portland's case an Eli Broad style angel failed to present themselves to save MoCC
as MOCA benefitted from.
Also by July 2007, when the museum opened in its new location in the Pearl then
MoCC Director David Cohen was pretty much exhausted from the move out of the
Corbett Ave building. What's more he lost his fundraising director in Feb
2008. Then that person's replacement in July 2008.
With two strikes already by mid 2008, finding a replacement director of development
had proven difficult (Cohen will have to take the blame for this but it is understandable
and his decision to make the move was good
just too short a timetable
in hindsight). Also, it takes funds (getting short by September 2008) to raise
significant dollars like the 2-5 million the museum needed. To put it simply,
without a war chest and a great development person the museum of Contemporary
Craft was already at nearly the point of no return when its new board convened
in September 2008 (the new board took over in July 2008 but it is very typical
that non profit boards are dormant over the summer). To put it simply, new board
chairman Kathy Abraham inherited a huge mess (thankfully the O discovered the
board chairperson had changed
noticeably, a few days after we pointed
it out) .
Then to put the nail in the last ditch fundraising attempt David Cohen resigned
after the stock markets crashed in October and the museum stopped having the
option of extending the line of credit it was living on. They were in institutional
quicksand and needed outside help.
Framing the current merger challenges:
The chief challenge can be characterized as a crisis of endowment and a question
of integration of core values.
1 PORT has taken the lead pointing out THE primary issue, endowments
the lack there of.
Besides the endowment issue this MoCC/PNCA merger presents a difficult integration
of very different core values with some intersections and its there where my
reservations are most present. The Museum of Contemporary Craft is ultimately
devoted to its collection, its curatorial and facilities' priorities are all focused
around that evolving collection and there is only so much of that which can be adjusted without compromising
integrity. Dissimilarly, PNCA is devoted to maximizing the way resources and
opportunities are marshaled for their student body with very wide interests
(including some craft, art, design and rigorous curation
which are in
short supply at PNCA because it hasn't been endowed fully.. these things do take time). PNCA's student body's needs are insatiable and wide ranging
(or should be) so the school's faculty and staff constantly work beyond the
call of duty to provide broad based art education. Furthermore, the craft museum's
collection is very idiomatic, you can't overnight add some design to its focus
and make it work with a 74 year old collection. Manley assures me he is committed
to the integrity and growth of that collection, but will acquisitions be a high
enough institutional priority when push comes to shove? To that Manley openly
stated he would welcome any donor that felt strongly enough to endow an acquisitions
fund for the museum. This would be a great step forward, but it's a difficult
thing to expect. Still you never know unless you ask.
What's more, the PNCA merger with MoCC does allow the museum to really develop
its educational outreach and PNCA its curatorial studies program which were
basically on hold until the 511 building is completed.. I estimate 5-8 years.
It gives PNCA a project to work on and continue its momentum as one of the fastest
growing art schools in the country. I'm thrilled because Portland currently
lacks a curatorial studies program. Manley also rightly points out that, "8
or 9 curatorial graduate students is a huge resource for Namita Wiggers,"
the museum's curator. At the same time her efforts should still be mostly centered
on the museum and too much teaching is definitely an achilles heel of this plan
to be watched. The museum has 3 main assets; the collection, the building and
(maybe not in that order).
Wiggers will likely be the chief intellectual architect of this merger and the
additional focus on design. Design is very outward in effect, craft has an inherently
inward or hermetic focus on integrity of creation (see PORT's
Glenn Adamson interview for craft definitions
). There are important intersections
between design, craft, art and this merger might allow both PNCA and MoCC take
a lead in defining those important areas, the success of which will be wholly
determined by the excellence of the students PNCA graduates and the programming
the museum puts out. How much of Wiggers time will be spent on the frequently
time intensive PNCA staff meetings, committees and occasional classes? The right
mix here may be the hidden factor in determining this merger's success.
Lastly, the risk of integration is the drain on each's respective strengths;
the museum's rigor, well defined mission and sharp curatorial staff and for
the art school its cash and recent momentum. Many people have started to talk
of PNCA like it's a big fish, making disturbing comparisons that Tom Manley
is the new John Buchanan?... but technically PNCA is still an underdog (important
distinctions: Tom and I have run into each other in the cereal isle of Fred
Meyer, Buchanan and I casually would run into each other outside of Paley's
difference there folks).
Once PNCA completes the 511 building and have at least a 30 million dollar endowment that gives at least some "funded" support to most of its missions
we can reconsider them, but until then they aren't there. Besides to give due
respect John Buchanan is still the most successful fundraiser Portland has ever
seen (140 million+ raised for his successful master plan for the Portland Art
Right now this merger is pretty much a done deal and I've voiced my concerns
and hopes. From a PR standpoint PNCA needs to look like its riding to the museum's
rescue (because it is, but skeptiscim is natural). Also, a full timeline will
help people sort out this compicated situation so Portland can learn from this drama.
I hope PNCA is strengthened by a strong curatorial studies program and its students
get a taste of museum rigor from this merger. I hope the museum can integrate
design without losing its integrity while getting an injection of PNCA's momentum
in Portland's design community. I hope hope that the museum and existing college
staff find the synergies predicted. But most importantly, I hope both the museum
and PNCA find this path they've chosen together as one of excellence, with that
as a pole star this might just work.
It might seem like a dull truism but the thing about excellence, one can never
predict the difficulties that one must face in its pursuit.