ONLY A FEW WEEKS remain to visit the Museum of Contemporary Craft (MoCC) before it closes on April 23. Not surprisingly, it feels like a funeral in there, with the monochrome solemnity of the current Rowland Ricketts show, and the Gallery Store's contents packed up, as museum staff return items to the artists.
When I moved to Oregon in 2007, MoCC was one of my first stops when I visited Portland, one of my first lively encounters with the art and culture of the city. Visiting the museum this month felt like the end of an era.
On February 3, Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) announced that MoCC would be closing its doors this year, and its portion of the DeSoto Building sold. The museum's programming and collection will be partly incorporated into PNCA's new Center for Contemporary Art and Culture, run by Mack McFarland, director of PNCA's exhibitions program. Some of the work will be shown at the new center, some as part of PNCA's Object Study Lab, and some will be kept in storage. The collection will be stored by Fine Art Services (other institutions will have the opportunity to borrow from it). The first exhibition involving the collection will open May 5.
Opened in 1937, MoCC's touted as the oldest continuously running craft institution in America. This is more complex than it sounds: The museum has operated under different names and functions. Founded during the Great Depression as the Oregon Ceramic Studio—which was built with donated materials from the Works Progress Administration—it was designed to help out regional artists, and originally located on SW Corbett. It moved to the Pearl District in 2007. In 2009, when the museum was having financial troubles, it was purchased by PNCA, with the hope that the merger would revitalize the institution. It didn't: The museum lost a painful average of $200,000 a year, according to PNCA's interim president Casey Mills, a number reported by Oregon Arts Watch and OPB. "The board began thinking about... selling the space in 2013 due to the continuation of MoCC operating on a deficit," said McFarland via email. "The tax credit MoCC received when it moved into its building in 2007 kept the property off the market until 2014. Then the sale of PNCA's Goodman Building and our move to the Arlene Schnitzer and Harold Schnitzer Center for Art and Design, which opened in February 2015, put the MoCC transition on hold."
Much ink has been spilled since the closing announcement, from the American Craft Council, PORT, Hyperallergic, and of course local educators and PNCA students. It's an undeniable loss: The museum has a very particular, entrenched history in the city. But the financial struggle to stay afloat is typical of small art institutions and comes as no surprise.
But there's a larger issue at play here: financial responsibility. Portland has always lacked the colossal patrons that exist in other cities, and craft in particular has always been a place for the marginalized—for people of color, for indigenous people, for women. It is historically a field for those who have been overlooked, who are skeptical of the often privileged, white Eurocentricity of the contemporary art world. MoCC has undergone many changes and functions, and this is perhaps just another. We'll see. But the beauty of craft is that it belongs to the people; it has always been the most democratic and accessible of the arts, and this may be a case where it is up to the public to support it, to foster its growth, and to champion its importance.