State, federal budget cuts to the arts present opportunities, challenges for downtown museum

State, federal budget cuts to the arts present opportunities, challenges for downtown museum
The Museum of Contemporary Art at Hemming Park

Due to proposed budget cuts at the state and federal level in arts education, including field trips, the Museum of Contemporary Art – Jacksonville, or MOCA, will continue to get creative in order to reach beyond its doors and engage young minds.

Dedicated arts magnet schools, such as Central Riverside and Fishweir Elementary Schools, and LaVilla and Douglas Anderson Schools of the Arts, could see their arts programs cut to one day a week or lose arts resource teachers, thus limiting opportunities for exposure to the arts.

While MOCA provides arts education for Duval County Public School children as well, government cuts in arts budgets will present challenges for the museum, too. “Currently, we no longer have government funding to bring children in Title I schools to our museum,” said Nan Kavanaugh, director of communications and marketing. “Sponsorships and private funding have become critical.”

It was private funding in 2016 through a gift from J. Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver that allows the museum to employ an educator for family and children’s programs. As the Weaver Educator, Anthony Aiuppy oversees the museum’s two flagship programs, “Voice of the People,” which brings fourth-graders from underserved schools to the museum twice a year to write an essay about an art piece and record an interpretive art essay for museum visitors to hear, and “Art Aviators,” an educational initiative designed for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other exceptionalities.

In the meantime, MOCA is creatively working to attract visitors of all ages. For example, it hosts hands-on family days to get children into the museum, where they can engage with the permanent art.

The museum recently collaborated with Friends of Hemming Park on a Family Day, and is working with the other local museums and the main Jacksonville Public Library next door.

“We are also looking for outreach opportunities outside of downtown, such as satellite or pop-up art events like the one we hosted in Space 42 art gallery in Riverside,” said Kavanaugh.

In January, the museum teamed up with Space 42 to host New York City artist Rosemarie Fiore as she did a live “smoke painting” performance. “We want people to have the opportunity to experience contemporary art outside of our downtown walls,” Kavanaugh said.

Exposing youth to contemporary art in an educational format isn’t brand-new to the 94-year-old museum. Since 2009, MOCA has had a flourishing relationship between its artists and scholars and the University of North Florida students, faculty and staff.

“MOCA provides UNF with a learning laboratory in which ideas important to our time and place can be explored,” said MOCA’s new director, Caitlín Doherty. “That vitality, sense of exploration and curiosity drive artists and scholars alike and serve as a bridge back to our Jacksonville community as a whole.”

Doherty sees the challenge of deepening the relationship between UNF and downtown Jacksonville as an opportunity for growth that will attract new audiences to the museum.

The museum is making strides in increasing UNF student and faculty involvement beyond merely taking field trips to the museum. As one example, more UNF art classes are actually based at the museum.

UNF’s gallery space in the museum is coordinated by regionally-known artist and art teacher Jim Draper. He works with UNF faculty who guide students in creating their own art shows in the museum.

“Our goal is to have students understand all aspects of creating art,” Kavanaugh said. “While not every student will become a well-known artist, with exposure to all aspects of the arts, a student may end up curating art, funding the arts, loaning art from a personal collection and appreciating art, in general.”

UNF student Gabbi Bautista with Nan Kavanaugh, director of communications and marketing

UNF student Gabbi Bautista with Nan Kavanaugh, director of communications and marketing

In 2014, MOCA added a student-in-residence program with separate studio space. The student works with a curator, directs the installation team in hanging the student’s art and has the opportunity to interact with the public who comes to view the student art.

UNF students can also work in a paid position as MOCA ambassadors. They are the first point of contact for visitors at the guest relations desk and throughout the museum. The program is open to all UNF graduate and undergraduate students who have a passion for museums, art history, and contemporary art.

Gabbi Bautista is a public relations major at UNF. Bautista, who graduated from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, appreciates the opportunity to interconnect arts and media and hopes to put her high school art skills to use in working with the media as a public relations professional someday.

“It is a very fun job,” Bautista said. “People often tell me how nice it is to have someone in the museum to talk to them about our works of art.”

The museum also offers internships to UNF students. Interns are exposed to art and art history, art education, the museum profession, and public programming.

MOCA is the perfect setting for art students as it is “self-curating,” according to Kavanaugh, explaining that it researches, collects, documents and creates its own exhibitions, rather than renting art shows like many museums choose to do.

Conversely, the museum’s first sculpture-only exhibition, “A Dark Place of Dreams,” will travel to Charleston, S. Carolina, after it closes here Sept. 9. The monochromatic assemblages of Louise Nevelson (1899-1988), one of the pioneering American sculptors of the 20th century, will stand alongside three contemporary artists: Chakaia Booker, Lauren Fensterstock and Kate Gilmore.

“For those living in or nearby downtown, a visit to MOCA can provide a transformational experience through the arts but, short of that, you can just enjoy a great meal, send your kids to a fun art camp or be entertained by a special film in the auditorium,” said Charles Gilman, outgoing board president. He will pass the torch to Rick Hawthorne, attorney at Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow, LLC, as the incoming board president.

Museum shop closing for new retail venture

Taking a step toward downtown revitalization, the museum is partnering with Troy Spurlin, owner of the 5 Points retail store Generation Us, to transition the museum shop to create a contemporary retail destination retail.

A larger initiative includes redevelopment of the lobby to make the museum’s first floor an open community space and to bring more people downtown, according to Doherty.

Spurlin, who also owns Troy Spurlin Interiors in Riverside, served as MOCA’s director of marketing and special events from 2004 to 2007. He decided to open a second retail store to be part of the focus on stimulating downtown commerce.

After the closing sale, which runs through July 14, the MOCA Shop will close for renovations, with an anticipated opening to kick off the fall exhibition season.

By Karen J. Rieley
Resident Community News

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