AN IMPORTANT PLATFORM for artists of African descent, the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco is facing a funding shortfall and possible interruption of operations in the wake of the COVID-19 virus. To help raise funds, the museum is launching its first-ever benefit auction with Artsy. Artists, galleries, and collectors from across the country are rallying behind the museum and participating in the online auction to help ensure it has the foundation and resources to continue serving the community.
Titled Diaspora Unite!: Artists of African Descent for MoAD, the auction will feature new and existing artworks donated by some of the most promising and sought after contemporary artists working today, including Kwame Brathwaite, Amoako Boafo, Andrea Chung, Dewey Crumpler, Jerrell Gibbs, Todd Gray, February James, Whitfield Lovell, Otis Kwame Kye Oquaicoe, Lava Thomas, Peter Uka, and Raelis Vasquez. A preview of the auction is available now. Bidding is open April 21-May 5, 2020.
“We’re so honored and grateful to have such a really dedicated artistic community and have had an outpouring of support from the artists that we’ve connected with,” Emily Kuhlmann, MoAD’s director of exhibitions and curatorial affairs, told Culture Type. “During this critical time, the work [being auctioned] will be benefiting the institution. As with many museums, have we have had layoffs and restrictions in the work that we are doing. We are now a staff of 11 for the entire institution. It seems at this juncture really important to invest in the sustainability of the institution.”
Nationwide businesses and public activities have shutdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. Museums and art galleries have temporarily closed their doors, too.
MoAD posted an announcement about its temporary closure on March 11. The statement said in part: “Here at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) the health and safety of our visitors, staff, and volunteers is our top priority. We are closely monitoring the changing status of COVID-19 and taking the necessary steps to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus disease. MoAD is temporarily closed. As of now all visits, tours, and events are postponed or canceled until further notice.”
The museum was closed to the public, installing its spring exhibitions, when it issued the statement. Closures in San Francisco had already begun and then the mayor issued a mandatory shelter-in-place order on March 16. Museum staff have since been working from home.
Across the country, museums large and small have made cutbacks and furloughed staff. MoAD has not been spared. On March 30, the museum announced layoffs for about 40 percent of its employees—7 out of 18. The remaining 11 staff members are working reduced hours. Executive Director Monetta White has been leading the museum since December 2019. In an email to supporters, White said the decision was “incredibly difficult and painful” and that the museum’s forced temporary closure was “impacting our already limited operating funds.”
FOUNDED IN 2005, MoAD is self-described contemporary art museum that celebrates black culture. It’s one of the few prominent institutions in the country dedicated to black art. MoAD was the inaugural venue for “Black Refractions: Highlights from The Studio Museum in Harlem” and was the sole U.S. stop for “Africa is a State of Mind.” The museum also presented “Ficre Ghebreyesus: City with a River Running Through,” the first museum of exhibition of the late Eritrean American artist.
Other notable exhibitions have included “Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite” and “Toyin Ojih Odutola: A Matter of Fact.” Meanwhile, one of MoAD’s signature programs is an emerging artist initiative.
A Smithsonian affiliate, the museum is not a collecting institution and does not have an endowment. Annually, MoAD welcomes about 50,000 visitors. General admission is $10. The museum receives support from foundations, corporate donors, and the City of San Francisco. Revenue was $1.99 million in the fiscal year ending in 2018, according to MoAD’s tax filing. The previous year was $3.05 million.
“It is so important especially right now when our worlds are so unsure, to remember that the work MoAD is doing as an arts community is vital, necessary, and life-affirming. Art, and access to art, is transformative and we have a responsibility to hold and create cultural spaces,” White said in a statement.
She continued: “In these times of extreme challenge and uncertainty, we must work together as a community, to collaboratively sustain our cultural institutions. We call on artists, donors, businesses, collectors, and individuals to support this institution as a foundational platform for artists of African descent in the Bay Area and throughout the world.”
More than two dozen artists, thus far, have committed to donate their work to help sustain MoAD. Beyond Artsy’s nominal fee, all of the auction proceeds benefit the museum. A number of galleries are also giving works and supporting the participation of their artists in the charitable effort, including Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, Roberts Projects, Jenkins Johnson Gallery, Goodman Gallery, James Fuentes Gallery, Traywick Contemporary, Klowden Mann, Koenig & Clinton, Sikkema Jenkins, and Meliksetian Briggs. Collectors Arthur Lewis and Hau Nguyen, and Ron Casentini, are also contributing works to the auction. Lewis is director of UTA Fine Arts and UTA Artist Space in Los Angeles. The auction is open to additional donations of art through April 21.
More than three weeks ago, on March 25, the museum was scheduled to open its new exhibitions: “Whales, A Romance…,” a major solo exhibition showcasing paintings by Mary Lovelace O’Neal, along with “Terra Incognita,” a solo show presenting works by Oakland artist David Huffman. Instead, MoAD finds itself at a critical juncture.
The press release announcing the auction said in part: “The auction will provide essential funding as MoAD makes every effort to open its doors once again. Like collegial institutions, MoAD is projecting extraordinary shortfalls in funding due to COVID-19 and, as cultural stewards, have a responsibility to protect and preserve the important institution. The auction is a critical piece in mobilizing all of MoAD’s communities to save the institution in this unprecedented time.”
Given the language, I asked Kuhlmann if the goal of the auction was to fortify the museum or save it. She said, “I think it’s both.” CT