In Closing: Some Remarks on a Museum’s End

Last month, the Museum of Craft and Folk Art (MOCFA) in San Francisco announced that they would close their doors forever come December. It’s always disheartening news to hear of a cultural institution closing and this is especially close to home since KMAC and MOCFA share in its objective of promoting excellence in art and craft.

In a press release, MOCFA claimed two reasons for their permanent closure: “Sustainability in the current economic climate, with reduced funding for the arts, was a significant factor in the decision, but Museum leadership also felt that, in many ways, MOCFA had achieved its essential mission.”  Unfortunately, cutbacks are a reality for arts organizations during this time of economic instability and just this summer the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Interior Subcommittee proposed a $14 million cut for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). However, when a museum states that it can close in part because it “achieved its essential mission” then I worry about the future of all museums.

MOCFA and KMAC share another significant link in that both institutions have benefited from an emerging curator from Louisville, Cecilia Adwell. She is currently enrolled in the Masters of Arts in Curatorial Practice at San Francisco’s prestigious California College of the Arts (CCA) and has worked with MOCFA in the continuation of her studies. She also served as a curatorial intern at KMAC during the summer, which resulted in the Hollers and Harvests exhibit. She is an ambitious student and passionate about preserving historical folk traditions while also keeping an eye on the larger, international fine arts world. I asked her if she would share her thoughts and feelings about the closing of MOCFA and the implications she feels it will present.

Cecilia writes:

I was very fortunate to work on a project with Museum of Craft and Folk Art curator, Natasha Boas, in conjunction with social practice artist, Harrell Fletcher. The time I spent at MOCFA was truly inspirational. Being a curator from Kentucky interested in folk art and craft, I was able to find a cozy little home in the museum off Yerba Buena Lane. While inhabiting a small space, the impact on the surrounding community was huge. MOCFA gave exposure to contemporary craft and folk artists (both locally and globally) through exhibitions, invigorated local children with a love for craft with their award winning educational programs, and once a month brought the community together for evenings of collective crafting at the CRAFT BAR.

For contemporary craft and folk art, MOCFA stood apart from its single-focus, institutional peers in that it approached “outsider” categories of arts production in a new light rather than a traditional didactic methodology that surrounds exhibitions featuring international artists. Fine arts, craft, and folk art are all on the same trajectory; therefore, these distinctions need not restrict or confine varying levels of arts practice on an international scale. Great care was given to elevate dialogue surrounding craft and folk art to a new level that argued for thoughtful reformation of the previously separate and distinct categories of artistic production.

It is now an exciting time for those of us interested in this field. Fine and folk art are confronting each other in contemporary curatorial methodologies, and hand crafted art is making a resurgence in the practices of formally-trained, fine artists. As MOCFA did, KMAC is exploring new territories and banishing old principles surrounding folk art and craft as nothing more than a novelty in the arts world.

It is easy to focus on the grief MOCFA’s closing will cause the international craft and folk art scene; however, many who have commented on the closing are ignoring the silver lining to this cloud. The women I worked with at MOCFA are by far the most valuable resource – they are passionate about the museum’s mission and message to the community. As these employees leave MOCFA, they will be dispersed into the arts world, carrying with them ideas and values surrounding the expansion of the current definitions of craft, folk, and fine art. The reputation of this fantastic institution is not lost. Rather, it will live on in new facets of the arts world through talented and passionate former employees and through the next generation of curators and arts educators who were touched by their 30 years of exhibitions and programming.

I thank the staff of MOCFA for allowing me to be part of their family during my time in graduate school. I learned valuable lessons that are permanent fixtures in my own curatorial practice, and hope that I can carry their standard of excellence in exhibition and their fervor for craft and folk art wherever my career takes me.

In continuation of her curatorial studies, Cecilia will return to KMAC this winter to curate an exhibition from the permanent collection.

Photo: Courtesy of Gudrun Enger, attractions.uptake.com.