The Museum of Outdoor Arts will close its indoor gallery space in the Englewood Civic Center after more than 20 years of hosting exhibits, shows and classes.
The move comes after nearly two years of pandemic-related cuts to the museum's hours and operations spurred by a drop in in-person attendance as well as a lack of funding from the City of Englewood.
“We are working with the city and just trying to reimagine what we can do with the resources that we have," said Tim Vacca, director of programs for MOA, who said the museum's presence will continue with outdoor installations. “We’re very much looking forward to having a presence on the outdoors and public spaces.”
Founded in 1981, MOA has occupied a gallery space and headquarters in the Englewood Civic Center since 2000.
The museum had been receiving $96,000 annually from the city to help with operational costs. But in April 2020, the city council voted to gradually reduce the funding, cutting it to $48,000 in 2020, $24,000 in 2021 and $0 in 2022.
Vacca said the closure was a result of MOA wanting to relocate to a new facility near the Fiddler's Green Amphitheatre in Greenwood Village, its original headquarters. He added that staff had for years been splitting their time between both locations and that the change will make it easier on them. There are no immediate plans for an indoor gallery space, however.
When asked if the loss of city funds had played into the decision to close in Englewood, Vacca said it was likely, but not the only reason.
“There’s so many different factors at play and that’s probably definitely one of the factors,” he said.
He also pointed to the construction of a new outdoor facility for the museum near the amphitheater that began last year and is set to be completed this spring. Some of the art on display in Englewood will be relocated there, Vacca said.
“We decided that we needed to be headquartered there at our primary asset," he said.
Along with the city's hundreds of thousands in funding over the years, MOA has spent over $9 million between 2000 and 2020 on programs, exhibits, classes and more at the Englewood gallery. That funding too was disrupted, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing a drop in revenue from ticket sales for shows at Fiddler's, which MOA owns.
“The pandemic has opened everybody’s eyes, especially arts organizations,” Vacca said, adding that MOA is looking to other revenue streams, such as new membership programs for its soon-to-be-finished outdoor exhibit.
Englewood Mayor Othoniel Sierra said the closure was an "unfortunate loss for the city."
Sierra was one of five council members in 2020 who voted to defund the museum, a decision he said was made out of a need to prioritize funding elsewhere.
“I think it was hard to justify putting that dollar amount towards MOA," he said, adding that the city still had infrastructure needs following major flooding in 2018.
When asked if the council had considered using money from its federal pandemic relief aid to renew support for the museum, as had been done in neighboring Littleton, Sierra said “it was never considered.”
Though it is leaving its dedicated Englewood space, MOA is still seeking to preserve dozens of outdoor sculptures throughout the city. With nearly 40 installations on display, Vacca said the organization is working with the city to determine which pieces will remain, and which will be moved to its new facility.
MOA spends about $50,000 annually to maintain these pieces, Vacca said, who added that the organization would hope to see some financial support from Englewood to go toward keeping the installations.
Sierra said he is confident the city will be able to maintain many of the works, but said it was too early to know how much money the city could put up or which pieces would stay.
“We want to continue to have a lot of art within the city itself," Sierra said.
Since 2000, the indoor gallery has been home to over 200 exhibits, installations, multi-media performances, hundreds of youth art classes, artists in residence, educational outreach with schools and community placemaking projects.
It saw tens of thousands of visitors in 2019 before COVID hit and was the subject of praise from hundreds of online reviews.
“They’ve probably been the most robust interior space we’ve had in Englewood,” said city resident Theresa Adams, who also chairs Englewood's Cultural Arts Commission. “I think it will be a big loss.”
With the gallery gone, Adams said she hopes the city can dedicate a new, permanent space for the arts.
“Right now, I think Englewood is kind of in the throes of figuring out its future identity … and having artists contribute to that development is their opportunity for them to have their stamp on that," she said.
For her, it's an investment in the identity, and story, of a community.
“I think arts and culture is a way of memorializing history as it goes along in real time," she said. "It creates this visual diary of the town."
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