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Museum Brings UNF Back Downtown

Big Changes are taking place at the Jacksonville Museum Of Contemporary Art. It will be partnering with University of North Florida, bringing students and art classes into the urban core. It will also finally transform into a legitimate museum.

Published April 24, 2009 in News      12 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


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


Charles Hunter

April 24, 2009, 05:58:58 AM
Back in the day, when working in an office downtown, I took a couple classes in the UNF Downtown Campus, in that very building.  The headline of the excellent article hints at that, but the last paragraph says the building was only "considered" for a DT campus.


April 24, 2009, 09:49:29 AM
This could be incredible synergistic (yeah that's right I used this word) for both parties. Hopefully those students coming downtown will translate into more money spent in the core and more vibrancy around Hemming park.

the University has the right to sell off the art collection to pay back its loan

This scares me a bit though.

Bike Jax

April 24, 2009, 10:07:25 AM
One thing the Museum could do to help it's cause is lower it's ridiculously high fees for membership. I can join any number of other museums for less than half of what they want and get a reciprocal membership to JMOCA.

If they want more people through the turnstiles then must make it affordable to a city that doesn't put much thought into art and culture in the first place. They must end their elitist attitude and get the general public to  feel like a welcome part of museum.

That being said, I think they have some amazing people working for them now and I have seen a complete shift and feel within the entire staff for the better since the replacement of the former director. (golf clap)

I'm looking forward to seeing what this new partnership brings.


April 24, 2009, 11:19:34 AM
the University has the right to sell off the art collection to pay back its loan

This scares me a bit though.

Don't worry too much. Most of the collection isn't very good!! That's the biggest problem in the first place! :)

Hopefully this partnership will allow them to build a more important collection eventually, which would probably help fix the rest of their problems. Right now, although the facility is marvelous, the collection isn't really worth the price of admission.


April 24, 2009, 02:35:23 PM
I'm glad to hear this will bring some students downtown a few days a week. When I attended UNF I was shocked at the amount of students who had never been downtown. The school has really isolated itself from the rest of the city. Hopefully this will be the beginning of UNF having a bigger presence downtown. Just imagine if UNF took a few notes from SCAD and embraced downtown.


April 24, 2009, 09:22:52 PM
I remember taking drawing classes with John Bunker in the early 70's when this was the Jacksonville Art Museum on Art Museum Drive by the Koger Center/Midtown Office Park.

Also, took a business class at UNF Downtown in the early 80's in this building.  That was a good program for the corporate community needing advanced or continuing education classes, especially lawyers and CPAs.  After work, could just walk from the office to class.  Maybe eat a dinner downtown in between or afterwards.  They should take another look at reactivating this now that they have this building under their control again.  Might even introduce some new patrons to the museum.


April 25, 2009, 09:13:23 AM
UNF is in such a bubble that it doesn't really feel a part of this community.  Every other college town I've lived in, the university was downtown and more a part of the community.  I've lived here 2 years and I've never even been to the UNF campus let alone an event there.  Getting there is so inconvenient.  I used to attend art shows, music concerts and athletic events when I lived in other cities, even though I wasn't an alum of the university.  I think this new partnership has great potential.  Art students at UNF should be very excited about the new exposure.  I would probably never attend an art show at UNF, but walking to one downtown...definitely.


April 26, 2009, 10:10:39 AM
Yeah,definitely.  I think they have guessed correctly on bringing UNF downtown and regaining the public attention.

Charles, I didnt realize that they had classes at the old building.

The University had actual discussion about moving there at the very beginning, but never chose that way.


April 26, 2009, 11:21:58 AM
There is an old photo of the Western Union (JMOCA) Building, with UNF's logo on it, somewhere on this site. 


April 27, 2009, 12:47:59 PM
Maybe I've missed it somewhere else, but from where is this $500,000 coming?  Surely not the state's decimated higher education budget...  ???


April 28, 2009, 10:45:02 PM
Maybe I've missed it somewhere else, but from where is this $500,000 coming?  Surely not the state's decimated higher education budget... 

From UNF funds. Delaney is great at begging the state legislature to keep funds in place for education, when he is out spending it on questionable investments. 500,000 would do more for facilities on-campus than having one so far from its main HQ. I can understand a fashion college building at Town Center, near fashion, but one so far from ALL of its campus????


April 29, 2009, 10:33:54 AM
Thats a little sour isnt it, mtrain?

Delaney is not only a public citizen, but there is no risk in this transaction since the line of credit is guaranteed by a security interest.

And this really is a great benefit to his students.  The chance for exhibition in a bona fide museum is very slim to the average student and this partnership allows for Art Students to actually build their resumes in a way that gives them a head start.

I for one, cannot understand a college building at Town Center, because it is not really near fashion, just retail.

Fashion takes place in places where clothing is designed and manufactured after all.

This move however takes art students and puts them not only near art, but right in the center of Art.
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