Hope is not lost for the Downey Museum of Art

DOWNEY - Surprise! Surprise! It looks like the Downey Museum of Art, which had totally disappeared from view, did not completely vanish. "For two to three years, it was in limbo," said its new president, George Redfox.What happened during those 2-3 years? Some of it can be accounted for; most of it cannot. Redfox is not saying, nor can he say, much at this point. "It has something to do with a gag order from the attorney general's office," he explained. Okay. As far as we know, the last known piece of news about DMOA was dated April 17, 2009 in these pages. It told of then DMOA president Kate Davies being sued for "breach of contract and fraud" by her former director of business and development. Then a long, ominous silence. We of course have been fairly familiar with its difficult budget problems. We also know that Davies, who served DMOA as executive director for a good number of years, had laid out a shining new design for a green museum which was to be called DMOA@TheGlidehouse with all sorts of programs and projects planned. But her dream of a 'Blueprint for Sustainability' never materialized. We learned from Redfox that Davies had retired "a couple of months ago." But not before she, Redfox, Ara Oshagan, and a few others helped warehouse the art collection in an undisclosed location for safe keeping. Redfox, who is also head of the newly-formed Downey Conservancy, says he joined DMOA's board of directors in 2008 "right before the 'end', obviously meaning DMOA's 'descent into limbo.' As he and Ara Oshagan were the only directors left out of the original 12, Redfox said they didn't give up on the idea of revivifying the museum. After all, it had had a storied past, and new life had to be breathed into the museum's large collection of art works. Meanwhile, about six months ago, they invited Barbara Briley-Beard, Alex Saab, Pam Lee and George Manzanilla to join them on the board. Briley-Beard is now treasurer, while Saab has been designated secretary. "Right now, all of us are trying to promote the artworks and what DMOA has stood for," Redfox said. Recently they have had two Boris Deutsch paintings displayed at the Columbia Memorial Space Center, with the cooperation of executive director Scott Pomrehn. The idea is to "get the art back out," Redfox says. The old DMOA building at Furman Park, which these past few years had remained empty, was originally gifted in 1957 by developer Willard Woodrow to the Downey Recreation and Park District (which was to evolve into the city's Community Services Department). Woodrow's wife, Alice, served as its first president. For years, DMOA (it used to be known as the Downey Museum of Art Association; it was shortened in 1967) flourished under Woodrow's solicitous management. Its fame grew in the art community. It attracted artists of all kinds and art connoisseurs, even as it enjoyed the support of sundry donors; its fundraising efforts met with success as well. But after a glistening period, the hard times came. Indeed, there was a point in 1998 during the late Lillian Ashton-Brooks' term as board president and as temporary museum director when, even then!, it was reported that the museum faced financial ruin "unless aid is found soon." This was when Davies came aboard, with the late Sachia Long, to turn its fortunes around. Redfox and his fellow DMOA directors have their work cut out for them: make the museum's old abode at Furman Park serve as a home base, at least for a while; provide space for student artists perhaps to showcase their art; while they apply for grants and look around for art-minded donors even as they undertake fundraisers, to get DMOA back on its feet; look for available space in the downtown area to display some of its collection (and even those of community artists); and reconnect with city hall. We invited board member and USC grad Manzanilla, a film and video production freelancer, to express his views on the significance of the museum's art and art in general. This is what he wrote, echoing no doubt the pronouncements and sentiments of past directors: "Having a local museum gives our local culture and art a way to be passed down to future generations. The museum's collection is an amazing display of history in this region from local, national and international artists. One of the museum's goals is to be a creative outlet and a point of interest to the local community. Inspiring people, of all ages, to look at the world through a different perspective is one of the major benefits of having a place in the city to show art." He continues: "Art in general is part of the story that creates our local culture and history. It has the benefit of requiring that one look at reality in a different way, and in doing so, is an exercise in creative thought. To inspire people to 'think outside the box' is exactly the kind of thing that gives people the edge in life." He concludes: "Our hope is that the Downey Museum of Art plays a significant role in fostering that creative spirit for the local community. This has many benefits that range from the local artist finding an audience/customer for their work to the establishment of creative districts and creative media agencies which then can benefit many local businesses by providing much-needed design and media services. The DMOA is or should be an integral part of a well-rounded arts and design community." "We'll clean up the old place," Redfox said. "Within this year we hope to reopen DMOA, modestly at first. In all this, we'll need the community's support, of course." One can only wish the resuscitated DMOA the best.

********** Published: August 11, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 17