Claremont Museum May Close Due to Financial Troubles

Just two years after its grand opening, the Claremont Museum of Art (CMA) is on the verge of closing its doors for good.The museum’s current exhibitions, “An Enduring Legacy: New Acquisitions to The Permanent Collection” and “Ten Pound Ape: Your Mother Was Beautiful Once, Part Vier,” will stay open to the public until the end of the month, if funds permit.As it stands now, the museum has officially closed its gift shop, sold the inventory to a third party, and laid off all employees. The city of Claremont is paying for the museum to have one worker.Steve Comba, a volunteer curatorial and registration consultant to the museum, said that money has “dried up,” and that “the current economic recession has not helped the museum or the vibrancy of the Claremont village.”The museum started off as a very ambitious project, according to Comba, who is also assistant director of the Pomona College Montgomery Art Center.“When the board first envisioned the museum, they envisioned a world-class entity; they wanted a museum with excellent programs, a place that would really add to the Claremont community.”The museum’s desire to achieve world-class quality resulted in a massive debt that it is now struggling to pay back.The CMA opened in 2007 in the Packing House, a historic warehouse in the Village Expansion that was built in the early 1900’s to support Claremont’s citrus industry. Comba said the museum’s decision to open in the Packing House before it had a solid endowment in place was too ambitious.“The board of the museum just couldn’t turn that down,” Comba said. “The Packing House had everything they wanted, it was centrally located, and it’s a historic building. It was perfect.”The museum’s location in downtown Claremont was not enough to help the museum continue to generate donations.“Money did not continue to come in like people thought it would,” said Comba, adding that the fledgling museum struggled to get a hold of big-name collections. “Requests to get a more famous collection on loan are difficult to receive as new museums are always at the bottom of the list for these requests, so that certainly did not help.”It has also been a difficult time for arts fundraising. A study released by the GivingUSA Foundation in June reported that in 2008, donations to arts and cultural organizations decreased by 6.4 percent.Although the board will not officially discuss how critical the museum’s financial troubles are, Comba said there is a lot of blame to go around.“There has been a lot of ‘he said, she said’ going on—board members are blaming donors who reneged. I think that’s only part of the truth though. Both the board and administration were not watching the finances,” Comba said.Final decisions concerning the museum will be made by Frank Chabre, the chair of the museum’s board of directors. Chabre did not respond to phone calls and e-mails.For now, the board of directors and other individuals who are invested in the museum are looking into possible solutions so that the CMA does not have to shut down entirely. The museum is currently in talks with an anonymous individual who would hold on to the collection while the museum sorts out its financial issues, according to Comba.“This person would provide a space for the collection and certain pieces could still be loaned to other museums in the meantime,” Comba said.If the museum does close, they must begin to consider each gift and donation separately.“The problem is that any donation of art was given under the premise that the museum would survive and be viable,” Comba said. “If it closes, the museum would then have to consult the donor to see what they would want us to do with the piece.”Within the Claremont community, many residents have been surprised by the news that the museum may be closing.“Many people walk past the museum and see that the store is completely gone,” Comba said, who feels that, should the CMA close, it would be a serious loss to the Claremont community.In addition to providing jobs, the museum offered programming opportunities for the local community, such as family art days and opportunities for 5-C students to volunteer and intern at the museum.Trevor Hunnicutt PO ’10, who visited the museum once, said he was sad to hear that the CMA would no longer continue its mission.“The Inland Empire has precious few cultural institutions near the colleges, so it’s sad to see that the region is losing one that was doing a good job,” Hunnicutt said.Comba hopes that the more people who know about the CMA’s situation, the greater the chance that someone will come forward with a solution.“It’s kind of ironic that one of the exhibitions on display is called ‘An Enduring Legacy,’” Comba said. “It’s like the museum is on life support and we don’t know when they will pull the plug. Hopefully they can hold on for a little bit longer and come up with a plan.”

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