by Max Marbut
A process began in January when the City Council approved an ordinance transferring the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville’s lease for the building on Laura Street to the University of North Florida. Following that action both boards of trustees approved other business arrangements that will benefit both the museum and the university.
What has happened involving the developing affiliation between the two institutions has been rather quiet. The most visible change so far has been some exterior signage on the museum facing Hemming Plaza and some tastefully low-key UNF Osprey logos etched into the glass on the doors of the museum.
What’s been going on behind the scenes will be unveiled to the public later this month when a new exhibit of contemporary art created by UNF faculty and a new permanent gallery space which will display work by UNF faculty and students both open at MOCA. UNF’s debut is Sept. 18 in conjunction with the museum’s next feature exhibition, “Robert Motherwell: Lost in Form, Found in Line.”
The UNF exhibitions will change six times a year. The first will feature the work of UNF sculpture students and alumni in the second-floor space while on the third floor, “The Art of Teaching,” about 130 works by 23 full-time and adjunct UNF Art and Design faculty will be featured.
Even before the first exhibition has opened the affiliation between the university and the museum, “has brought a level of scholarship we couldn’t achieve without UNF’s resources,” said MOCA Associate Curator and Registrar Ben Thompson.
As soon as the affiliation was codified, UNF art historians began studying MOCA’s permanent collection. Thompson said that may ultimately lead to the museum developing what’s called a “traveling exhibition” that could be loaned for a fee to other art venues, creating a new revenue source for MOCA.
Dr. Debra Murphy, chair of the UNF Department of Art & Design, said having the resources available at MOCA for faculty and students is an asset that will continue to develop.
“Having the presence in the museum makes UNF much more accessible for the public and that raises our profile in the community,” she said. “It also gives our facility the opportunity to exhibit their work in a beautiful space at a prime location.”
Murphy described MOCA as a “new classroom laboratory” that has already enhanced what the university can offer students beyond a traditional fine arts education.
“Being at MOCA has inspired classes in gallery practices and museum studies,” she said. “There’s a lot more to an art museum than getting out a hammer and nail and hanging some pictures. There’s light and humidity and planning how art should be displayed.”
Thompson added, “Now we’re able to help train artists and also help train people who want to run museums.”
Student interns and their experience at MOCA is another aspect of the partnership. Thompson said an intern who studies photography at UNF is creating a digital image archive of the museum’s permanent collection, a first for MOCA. Murphy said internship opportunities at MOCA have already extended beyond the Department of Art & Design with UNF students securing internships in the marketing and information technology aspects of the museum.
“We all hold MOCA in high regard,” said Murphy. “It’s great to be able to add another dimension to the museum.”