MOCA GA’s archive of Georgia artmaking gets a boost

Best known as a showcase for artists from around the state, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia has been actively, if a bit more quietly, collecting art by and archiving material about Georgia artists since its 2000 founding.

These busy aspects of the museum’s operation, tucked away downstairs from its much more traversed main exhibition space in TULA Art Center in Buckhead, are about to get their own showplace.

MOCA GA is announcing Thursday in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that it plans to more than double the size of its Education/Research Center, from 5,000 square feet to 12,000 square feet. The additional space will bring to 22,000 square feet what the museum will command on TULA’s two levels once the expansion opens next April.

The purpose is to make MOCA GA, which attracts 10,000 yearly, a more vital public resource, its president and CEO Annette Cone-Skelton said.

“This is a real service to the community, to scholars and students, but it’s also a real service to the artists,” Cone-Skelton told the AJC in an exclusive interview. “Nowhere else is there a facility that is archiving and documenting the works of artists in the state.”

The archive, which began with 3,000 items and today numbers upward of 150,000 pieces, will be open to the public during regular gallery hours and no longer will require an appointment. Those doing research will be able to access the archive’s digitized database from computer stations.

Works from the museum’s rarely shown permanent collection of paintings, drawings, sculpture and other art dating back to the 1940s, which has grown from 250 to more than 9oo pieces, will be the basis of regularly changing exhibitions.

“The collection and the archives have grown by leaps and bounds, so we have for quite some time known that we were running out of space,” Cone-Skelton said. “We have been working on these since day one, and now it’s coming to fruition so that it’s ready to launch and be more easily accessible to the public.”

Michael Rooks, the High Museum of Art’s modern and contemporary art curator, called the expansion of the Education/Research Center, which he’s tapped several times since arriving in Atlanta in 2010, “exciting news.”

Rooks said it helped him get “the whole skinny” on Medford Johnston when a work by the influential retired Georgia State University art professor caught his eye in the High’s vaults. Now Rooks is working with Johnston on a one-man exhibit that will open at the High in February.

The downstairs space, currently a warren of unoccupied artist studios, will be opened up in the design by the Atlanta firm Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects.

The Education/Resource Center will be outfitted with movable walls for maximum programming flexibility. That will also allow MOCA GA to rent its expanded digs for meetings and soirees, increasing revenue potential. In fact, the MOCA GA Gala Art Auction and Sale, the nonprofit’s major annual fundraiser, is expected to inaugurate the space on April 12.

The museum, which is operating on a $800,000 budget during fiscal 2014, expects the project to cost $175,000 to $200,000. A number of grants and individual donations have been secured, but Cone-Skelton said the bigger challenge will be covering a 31 percent rent increase.

MOCA GA recently hired its first development director, Anahita Modaresi, bringing its full-time personnel to six. While staffing isn’t expected to significantly increase, the new space will allow the ranks and roles of interns and volunteers to expand.

Supervised by exhibitions and collections manager Shana Barefoot, the archives include artist notebooks, catalogs and collections, some from now-defunct Georgia educational institutions and artist groups such as the Atlanta College of Art, Atlanta Women’s Art Collective and Taboo. The 2,500-volume art library includes collections from area artists, educators, collectors and institutions including the High Museum of Art (which donated 700 books along with 21 early artworks in 2010) and Nexus Press. And the digitizing continues, with current work on the extensive papers of longtime Atlanta art critic Jerry Cullum.

“It’s helped me to expand my knowledge of the art history of Georgia and more specifically Atlanta, to understand the wealth here,” High curator Rooks said of the Education/Resource Center. “That’s what gets lost if we don’t have a resource like MOCA GA. We forget that there’s been an incredible history here, there’s deep, rich talent that exists here. If that gets lost, we just start over.”

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