La Jolla as a 'Cultural Hub': Capital campaign for MCASD expansion launched

It was a historic day at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s (MCASD) La Jolla campus Tuesday Oct. 18, when — in association with its 75th anniversary — outgoing director Hugh Davies officially passed the baton to incoming director Kathryn Kanjo as part of some institutional changes, and museum management launched the public capital campaign to help fund a three-year expansion project. 

The expansion will double the size of the 700 Prospect St. facility, taking it from 52,000 to 104,000 square feet, and will quadruple its gallery space from 10,000 to 40,000 square feet. To launch the construction project, the facility will close in January, 2017 and reopen in 2020. 

“We’re proud to celebrate 75 years in the San Diego region, and today we stand poised to make our mark on the next 75 years with a very important project,” Hugh Davies said at a conference held in Sherwood Auditorium. “MCASD is an art museum with a world-class collection of more than 4,700 works. But due to space constraints, all but a small fraction of that collection currently languishes in storage. We believe the community deserves to see and experience our collection, (and) an expansion of our La Jolla facility will allow us to consistently display our collection, as well as present compelling contemporary exhibits and expand our education programs.”

Through private contributions and gifts, $56.7 million of the needed $75 million has already been raised. Early donors include: Melissa and Michael Bartell, Mary and James Bergland, Barbara Bloom, Matt and Nancy Browar, Karen and Donald Cohn, The David C. Copley Foundation, Carolyn Farris, Pauline Foster and the Foster family, Margaret Jackson, Joan and Irwin Jacobs, Paul and Genevieve Jacobs, Maryanne and Irwin Pfister, Colette Carson and Dr. Ivor Royston, and Iris and Matthew Strauss. 

Now, the public capital campaign to raise the remaining $18 million is officially underway. 

Calling it “an exciting time for us here in La Jolla,” incoming MCASD board president Paul Jacobs spoke about the impact the expansion would have on La Jolla as a “cultural hub.”

“La Jolla, in particular, has long been a cultural center and today it’s really experiencing impressive growth. We have the vitality of the La Jolla Playhouse on the campus of UC San Diego and all the shows it has sent to Broadway; we have the expansion of the La Jolla Music Society to a state-of-the-art facility, The Conrad, here in the Village; so when MCASD reopens its doors, La Jolla is going to emerge as a vital cultural hub and something I’m proud to be a part of,” he said. 

Jacobs assumed his new role at the Tuesday morning conference. A MCASD supporter since 2000, most recently, he served as the co-chair of the architectural selection committee that chose Selldorf Architects to design the expanded facility. 

Calling principal architect Annabelle Selldorf “brilliant” and the design “wonderful,” Jacobs said previous Selldorf endeavors include public and private projects such as museums, libraries, art galleries and a recycling facility.

As part of doubling the overall size, the three-year construction involves the creation of two levels to house reconfigured galleries that can accommodate large and small works, with Terrazzov floors to maintain continuity with the existing building. A lattice ceiling structure and vertical windows will incorporate skylights to provide diffused lighting. A large, multipurpose gallery will also be built on the lower level. The existing parking lot on the north end of campus will be transformed into a public park and new seaside terraces. 

Local architectural firm Alcorn & Benton will work with the museum and Selldorf on the regulatory and approval processes. 

Changes at the helm

As a second facet to the historic occasion, Davies stepped down from his leadership post after more than 30 years at MCASD, and Kanjo stepped up as his successor. 

“Today, I very happily relinquish my duties as the David C. Copley director and CEO to my dear friend and colleague, Kathryn Kanjo. I can’t tell you how reassuring and gratifying it is to hand over to someone who is (up to) the task, and who knows the history of the institution. I will look forward to rooting for and supporting for years to come.” 

For Kanjo, working at MCASD is a homecoming of sorts, given that her first curatorial appointment was at MCASD in 1992, where she served as assistant and then associate curator. She later served as executive director of Artpace San Antonio and director of the University of Art Museum at University of California, Santa Barbara. She returned to MCASD in 2010 to serve as chief curator before her most recent promotion. 

Kanjo said she was “honored to take on the role” officially, especially at this “crucial moment in the institution’s history.”

She said when the Museum reopens in 2020, “Galleries will chart a chronology of the post-war period to the present day, punctuated with thematic interludes, smart abstractions, distilled minimalism and bold pop expressions that will be exhibited alongside deeply California manifestations of funk and lightened space. … Long term displays of the permanent collection will offer interpretive materials for all audiences, inspiring visitors to come back again and again.”

Until MCASD La Jolla closes in January, renderings and a scale model of what the facility will look like is on view in the main lobby. Curious patrons may visit during business hours (11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Tuesday) to see what they can expect. During the closure, exhibitions and programming will be centralized at MCASD’s downtown location at 1100 Kettner Blvd. 

Changes through the years

The building that houses (until January) the MCASD is the one-time home of La Jolla benefactress Ellen Browning Scripps, and was designed by famed architect Irving Gill. MCASD’s founding trustees purchased the property in 1941 and called the non-profit institution The Art Center in La Jolla. 

Architects Robert Mosher and Roy Drew (of the firm Mosher Drew), modified the facility in 1950 to include formal galleries. In 1960, Sherwood Auditorium opened. Four years later (1964), the name was changed to La Jolla Museum of Art, and in 1971 was changed again to the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art. In 1980, Mosher Drew renovated the facility a second time. The facility started going by its current name in 1992, the year before the Downtown location opened.

Want to know more? A schedule of current programs and exhibits, along with updates on the expansion project, can be found at mcasd.org or (858) 454-3541

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