Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Business Brief: Outgoing MOCA Director Reflects On Art Museum's Success

John Burr

Jacksonville’s Museum of Contemporary Art is losing its director to a job in Milwaukee. As she prepares for her exit, MarcellePolednik spoke with WJCT business analyst John Burr.

He tells News Director Jessica Palombo what he learned about the business of running a museum in this week’s “Business Brief.”

Burr notes how successful the museum has been in the past five years by a variety of measures. Attendance is up 70 percent; the operating budget has grown 57 percent; contributions are up 71 percent; and MOCA’s endowment has grown by more than 400 percent to about $5.25 million.

Burr says Polednik’s winning strategy has included changing the museum’s mission and stepping up its educational outreach.

She says, “We’ve gone from being a lot of things to a lot of people to being fewer things in a more meaningful way, in a richer way, with the audiences that we’ve chosen to serve. So there’s been more of an impactful approach. We’re not just interested in the breadth of the museum; we’re interested in depth.”

Part of that depth, she says, comes from elevating the local conversation about the role of art. The best example she can point to was when former City Council President Clay Yarborough threatened to pull MOCA’s funding over what he perceived as a “pornographic” photo of a nude pregnant woman, which was displayed in the museum’s front atrium. After anti-censorship protests in Hemming Park, the photo remained in the museum and recently joined its permanent collection.

Burr notes the incident raised the museum’s profile and perhaps its ability to raise money.

Another achievement Polednik says she’s proud of is the museum’s ability to reach a wider audience online.

“And it’s the next frontier for museums worldwide is to understand not only how to contend with an increasingly digitally savvy audience but also how to deal with an audience that is interested in the work that you’re doing without stepping foot in your organization,” she says.

MOCA has been a forerunner in this area, and it’s part of what helped her get the director job at the Milwaukee Art Museum in Wisconsin, she says.

As for the museum she’s leaving behind, Polednik says visitors can expect more performance art to appear alongside the visual art at MOCA. Visitors got a taste of that on March 18, at Shinique Smith's "Project Atrium" installation: "Quickening," which included an aerialist’s dancing.

Marcelle Polednik will be with MOCA until July 15. 

WATCH | Shinique Smith's "Project Atrium" installation: "Quickening"

View the entire performance here

Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP