Artful Exit

The Monterey Museum of Art rents its downtown Pacific Street location from the city of Monterey for $1 a year. Museum officials have worked for years to make needed updates to the building.

For years, the Monterey Museum of Art has told a tale of one museum, two locations. Museum officials are now planning to leave the current Pacific Street location in downtown Monterey, across from Colton Hall, in favor of the La Mirada Cultural Center off of Fremont Street near Monterey Peninsula College.

Museum officials and trustees have spent years investigating different facility options. A consultant’s report in 2015 recommended leaving both Pacific Street and La Mirada behind, in favor of a single facility built specifically for the museum. The consultants said both facilities were aging, in need of significant repairs costing tens of thousands of dollars and lacking visibility. In recent years, La Mirada was closed for day-to-day visits and turned into a center for special events and an artist-in-residence program. Meanwhile, the museum made $175,000 worth in improvements to the Pacific Street location in 2018.

The La Mirada plan was approved by the museum’s board of trustees at a meeting on Sept. 27 by a narrow margin, according to a former trustee who took part in the meeting.

Several members of the board expressed serious concerns about the viability of moving from Pacific Street to La Mirada, which is at the top of a hill, adjacent to a residential neighborhood, and mostly hidden from view, says the former trustee who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. “The board was totally split right down the middle,” the former trustee says.

Executive Director Stuart Chase writes in an email that the board was not split. However, at least two members of the board resigned because they disagreed with the decision, and at least four members have resigned since the museum’s annual meeting in July.

At the Sept. 27 meeting, the divided board approved a plan to purchase the former Cypress Nursery property on Perry Lane, located behind El Estero Car Wash. The idea, according to the trustee who attended the meeting, is to use the 1.8-acre property for parking for La Mirada, and possibly repurpose an existing building as office space. Museum officials did not confirm whether a sale is in the works.

“La Mirada provides us with a beautiful setting to examine, observe and commune with art and nature,” Chase writes.

Monterey City Manager Hans Uslar says museum officials tell him there are no immediate plans to vacate the Pacific Street building, which the museum leases from the city. “If they are gone from here, it’s a loss for downtown,” Uslar says. “It’s an interesting cultural-historic center with Colton Hall, the Cooper Molera Adobe and other historic adobes. It is a nice, complementary use of the historic buildings.”

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The museum’s director of external relations, Shannon Damnavits, responded to questions from the Weekly about the location change with a written statement. The museum and board of trustees “routinely evaluate and explore new opportunities to expand our reach and make accessible our resources,” according to the statement.

“We are now working toward a plan to reinvest in our La Mirada property as a museum providing access to all constituents.” Plans will be shared with the public, the statement reads, “as soon as they are finalized.”

Walter Ryce contributed to this report.

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