MCASD prepares for expansion, closing exhibits in January


Although still without a construction start date, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) campus at 700 Prospect St., announced it will close its La Jolla galleries in January to begin preparing for some big changes. “We need to get our building ready for construction,” said Deputy Director Kathryn Kanjo, who added that the works of art in La Jolla will be relocated to protect them from any damage.

In tandem with the news of the closing, an announcement of lay-offs of eight full-time and 20 part-time positions was made. MCASD Communications & Marketing Manager Leah Straub said in a press release, “We will close the La Jolla facility in January 2017 and consolidate our programming to MCASD’s Copley and Jacobs Buildings downtown. When the closure occurs in January, we will reduce staffing.”

The museum’s La Jolla galleries will double in space from 51,545 to 105,014 square feet, which will increase its exhibition capacity from “10,000 to 40,000 square feet,” said Kanjo. “Often times with expansions for museums, a large portion of that would be back up house ... offices, mechanical rooms … We really are primarily expanding our gallery. It’s about our mission and the public spaces.”

A public park will replace the parking lot north of the building, featuring a sculpture garden. Kanjo elaborated, “(The park) will present switchback pathways punctuated with art installations. (It will be) an open space where we can have gatherings and performances — open to everybody without an admission fee.”

Construction plans include: demolition of the house to the south of 700 Prospect St., which the museum owns; building an underground parking with spaces for 41 vehicles; transforming the Sherwood Auditorium into a gallery; and adding a two-story new exhibition wing and several ocean-view patios and terraces on different levels. Kanjo said MCASD hopes to accomplish a more open community experience for museum-goers. “There will be new ocean-view spots from the inside that remind people, ‘You’re not only at the museum, you’re at this museum in spectacular La Jolla,’ ” she said.

The project also includes a new entrance and bookstore off Prospect Street, at the intersection with Silverado Street. “Right now the entrance might be difficult,” Kanjo admitted. The Museum Cafe near the Prospect Street entrance will remain open “as long as possible.”

She said the current exhibition space will be revolutionized with modern-day technology to become “a much more interactive museum with information on-demand that so many museum-goers and the general public expect. This is not going to be a museum where you hush your voice, step in and look at one thing. … It’s about learning and social engagement. We find that people want to use the museum, not only for reflection and solitude, but with groups and activities, and with other content added on.” The new technologies will provide information about artists and historical context.

Kanjo will officially take on her new role as the Museum’s David C. Copley Director and CEO on Tuesday, Oct. 18 during a press conference at MCASD La Jolla marking the 75th anniversary of the museum and Ellen Browning Scripps’ birthday. Scripps’ Irving Gill-designed home serves as the heart of the museum’s La Jolla campus. Kanjo replaces Hugh Davies, who will remain with MCASD until his contract expires in 2018 overseeing the capital campaign and building expansion.

“It’s terrific that we have the Scripps connection that stitches its way from up at the Scripps Institute down to the hospital. We’re happy to be part of that legacy. Although Ms. Scripps didn’t donate her property to the museum, she gave it to the City of San Diego, and they sold it to the museum,” Kanjo said.

“This is (the La Jolla community’s) museum, it always has been, and it will offer so much more. People love our collection, they have their favorites with memories attached to them. There will be the permanent story that La Jollans can claim, but then there’s going to be the changing exhibitions.”

Kanjo has been working as the museum’s deputy director for six years, but in the early 1990s she contributed to the institution as a curator, helping put together expositions and also configuring the museum’s path to include art patrons south of the border. “I think any globally-minded institution must think about its region,” she explained. “We want to distinguish ourselves, we want to be a player in the international art world, and part of that distinction is the rich art produced in our region. People are envious because we are in this charged international political creative energy that is the Border Region, and envious of our proximity to Los Angeles with so many artists living there. We sort of blend to the larger dialogue.”

Kanjo said she is excited about the growing local San Diego art scene. “The scene is continuing to evolve, and what seems to me to be the new energy is artist-run spaces, spaces that are dedicated to artists from this region … and we want to be part of that in so many ways — in our exhibitions, acquisitions and hiring artists.”