Its no secret that the arts community across the country has been in a vertigo producing free fall in the wake of the economy. The Museum has been no exception. After finally finding a mission under the leadership of George Kinghorn and redefining itself as a Museum of Contemporary Art, it then faced the near dehydration of philanthropy that is being faced nationwide by museums and arts organizations.
Its board was faced with tough decisions and decided that something substantial needed to be done.
Preston Haskell, who along with Jennifer Johnson has been one of the Museum's most faithful supporters, leaders and donors approached University of North Jacksonville President and former Mayor John Delaney about the cooperation.
Delaney --famously a long time downtown fan-- was so taken with the idea, that he immediately put together a team on the project.
The team included Art Design Chair Deborah Murphy, the Campus financial team and the university's legal team in order to determine the risks and benefits of the project.
The City Owns the building, but the Museum owns the Art Collection.
It was determined that the Museum needed a capital infusion of up to 500 thousand dollars.
UNF signed an agreement, passed by the board last Thursday night that makes up to $500,000 available to the Museum, with the proviso that the Museum get its house back into sound financial order within 18 months. If the Museum is unable to do this, then the University has the right to sell off the art collection to pay back its loan.
In the meantime, UNF will place two people to become members of the Museum Board, including Dr. Deborah Murphy who among her talents teaches Art History at the Campus. Additionally, UNF will provide assistance with marketing and fundraising as well as operational expertise.
For the first time there will be legitimate, credit bearing Art classes being given at the Museum and the Museum will also host student and graduate shows. This is an enormous benefit to both organizations, as the students will have a pretty unique and amazing opportunity to show their work at a registered art museum, and the Museum will finally have the legitimate art education program to finally be taken seriously by the museum and art world.
UNF's point person on this project will be Deborah Murphy.
In talks with UNF, Community Relations officer was resolute in making it clear that this was President John Delaney's project and praised his leadership and dedication on the partnership. She enumerated the many benefits including: "It presents us with a real opportunity for visibility in the center of town. The University is in many ways kind of cocooned in its present location, surrounded by the natural lands and preserves. This gives us the opportunity, we think, to be more visible to the rest of the city, and provides our students with unique opportunities."
The Museum is no less thrilled about the cooperation. While the partnership exists with the possibility of the Museum losing its only asset---its art collection-- There is no telling what would happen without this development.
"We will still be the JMOCA, and when you join the Museum, you will be joining the Museum, not UNF"
There are still a lot of details to be worked out of course, both the Museum and the University agree: Classes should start in the Fall Term, but there are logistics to be worked out regarding the drive time expected of students, and there is no word yet as to how the classes will be made available to the general public who want to study art at the Museum but who are not students at the University. Susan Ashton, from UNF suggested that there would be two or three course offerings this year.
In all, this is probably the most promising position that the Museum has been in to date.
The three elements which an Art Museum needs for legitimacy are a Collection of recognized importance, An art historian, and an educational mission. The Museum has struggled to put all three in place for a while, and this looks like it will finally happen all in one partnership.
The choice of the building is ironic, since the old telegraph building was closely considered for the first site for University of North Florida, a fact which the former mayor is sure to be aware of.
The addition of students traveling from outside the city core to the Museum on a three times weekly basis is bound to be nothing but good news both for the Museum and Hemming Park.
Now it remains to seen if the Museum can finally reach out and bring in the surrounding community as well as stability to its non existent endowment.
Article by Stephen Dare