Santa Monica Lookout
|Santa Monica Museum of Art Moving to Century City|
By Niki Cervantes
April 16, 2015 -- Struggling under a big rent bill and stymied in its efforts to find local replacement space, the Santa Monica Museum of Art is leaving its longtime home at Bergamot Station while it tries to determine its future.
At the end of May, following its 11th annual “Incognito” benefit art sale, the museum will become “SMMoA Unbound,” operating from rented offices in Century City as it works to “refine its vision and broaden its reach,” said Lynda Dorf, a museum spokesperso.
“SMMoA Unbound is a strategic opportunity for reflection and rejuvenation,” she said, calling the change “a planned gestation period.”
City officials and cultural leaders said they were disappointed with the move and are working to bring back the 31-year-old local institution.
“The arts community is very upset that they are leaving,” said Bruria Finkel, a local artist and curator long active in the Santa Monica arts scene. “They (the museum) had no choice. We are holding our breaths, and we will do everything to bring them back. ”
Mayor Kevin McKeown – who noted that the museum would be the preferred tenant at the Bergamot Arts Center planned for the current site near a future Expo Light Rail station -- called the situation a conflict between “long-term plans and short-term circumstances.”
“I have personally been working with the Museum and City staff to find SMMoA space in Santa Monica for the next few years, but such space in our City is scarce and expensive,” McKeown said.
“In the long run, the Santa Monica Museum of Art is still the preferred tenant for the new museum space once the Bergamot Arts Center gets rebuilt to accommodate the advent of light rail,” he said.
Other City officials who had worked to keep the museum in town were disappointed by the move.
“It’s just a real shame,” said Jason Harris, the City’s economic development manager. “We are hopeful that they can be brought back into the city-owned part of Bergamot.”
Wayne Blank, a gallery owner who was the museum’s landlord, said he had tussled with museum officials over rent. SMMoA was paying $7,900 a month, which he raised to $16,000 – more reflective of market value, he said.
Blank said he and his wife had been “subsidizing” the museum for 18 years, at a total cost of $2.5 million and had asked for $70,000 in back pay. The museum paid $40,000, Blank said, adding that he and his wife contributed the remaining $30,000.
But after that, the museum said it couldn’t continue to pay indefinitely, Blank said. “I wish them well,” he said, adding that he’s talking with other museums that might be interested in the site.
The museum’s fate has been in question for years as the City tried to decide how to redevelop Bergamot Station, the 7.5-acre complex -- part of a former rail depot --where the museum is located. It is also home to more than 30 commercial art galleries.
At one point, the city considered a plan by a private developer that would have funneled $17 million to the museum, doubling its size to 20,000-square-feet. Although the museum supported that plan, its neighboring galleries did not.
The City opted for a different plan, one that was less of an overhaul and less likely to generate the kinds of large rent increases that would displace current tenants. As it now stands, space would be reserved for a nonprofit arts anchor in that plan.
Founded in 1984, SMMoA moved from its original location on Main Street to the center of Bergamot Station Arts Center in 1998.
As part of the ongoing effort to redevelop Bergamot, the Santa Monica City Council recently established a special committee to come up with a final plan for the future, Harris said.
It includes four members from Bergamot, including the museum, four members from neighborhood groups, one member from the Chamber of Commerce, one from the arts commission and one from the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
One of the current benefits of the museum, said Dorf, is that it is free from the constraints of a permanent collection. That makes it “uniquely equipped” to take the break it is planning, she said.
Museum staff will organize a roster of pop-up exhibitions, education and outreach initiatives, Dorf said. It also will come up with new offerings from the retail shop, GRACE.
During that time, it will also “explore” permanent new sites in Los Angeles County and Santa Monica -- including becoming an anchor tenant in a redeveloped Bergamot Station, she said.
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