Museum to launch ad campaign bringing its name to unusual places

Contemporary art is a hard sell. That may explain why the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles will soon be launching the most expensive advertising campaign in its 21-year history. Created by powerhouse advertising agency, TBWA/Chiat/Day/Los Angeles, the campaign will cost approximately $1 million, 5 percent of MOCA's operating budget, Jeremy Strick, MOCA's director, said.

"We want to project our identity as broadly as possible into the Los Angeles community," Strick said.

Launching on Jan. 1, the campaign centers around 61 billboards strategically placed between Santa Monica and downtown and along busy streets and intersections throughout the greater metropolitan area.

Designed to replicate the black and white labels that appear next to the artwork in MOCA, the text on the billboards identify a specific Los Angeles landmark as a piece of artwork, then list its title, year of creation and the type of materials used. Most of the boards also include a pithy, thought-provoking statement and end by crediting the source of the artwork with conventional museum vernacular, such as "On loan from the Museum of

Contemporary Art, Los Angeles."

"Our challenge was to maintain the integrity of our client's product so we needed to convey the brand in a way that is as fresh and unconventional as the art they exhibit," said Gary Topolweski, executive director of TBW/Chiat/Day.

One of the more provocative boards is slated for Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, next to the Crazy Girls Exotic Strip Show.

It reads:

"Nudes 2001,

Bodies, dimensions variable.

A study of First Amendment rights, entertainment and business all acting in concert to provide a debate among lawyers, politicians and the general public.

On loan from The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles"

Three similarly formatted boards will appear along the Santa Monica (10), Harbor (110) and San Diego (405) freeways. Others will launch in Westwood, Beverly Hills, Venice, West Hollywood, Los Feliz, Playa Vista, Century City, Culver City and downtown L.A.

"MOCA provides a framework in which to experience contemporary art," Strick explained. "And this campaign extends that framework into the Los Angeles community, allowing MOCA to engage with the city at large."

The campaign will also include print ads in major newspapers, movie theater spots, buses, bar and restaurant postcards, and radio. Three television spots have also been produced that local network affiliates will be encouraged to run as public service announcements.

"Like the museum, the media placement needed to be unexpected and engaging, so the museum message will also be placed on dry cleaning hangers, paper coffee cup bands and gas pump handles," said Melanie Axtman, group media director for Chiat/Day.

In all, there will be approximately 150 media placements, making the campaign one of the largest ever for a local museum, according to MOCA officials.

"Its unprecedented," said Mary Anderson, project director of the Chiat/Day campaign.

While the campaign is aimed at increasing public awareness of MOCA, it is also reflective of the many changes that have taken place at the museum in recent years.

The naming of Strick as MOCA's director is perhaps the museum's most important recent change.

Sculpting a new identity

Before moving to MOCA in July 1999, Strick, a Harvard-educated scholar, was curator of 20th century painting and sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago. He previously held curatorial positions at the prestigious National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the St. Louis Art Museum.

Since his arrival, Strick has overseen development of the Chiat/Day campaign and has tackled a wide array of museum projects, from new exhibitions and acquisitions to fundraising and educational development.

In addition to opening four new exhibitions, MOCA and Razorfish, Inc., the global digital solutions provider, recently entered into a strategic creative partnership to expand the role of digital expression within the museum. Razorfish will help MOCA create a multiyear plan that will infuse digital tools into the museum's operations, from exhibitions and collections to education, marketing and membership."

To initiate this partnership, Razorfish will redesign and significantly expand MOCA's Web site, providing greater access to services and programs, as well as information about contemporary art in general.

"Digital means of expression will transform the very nature of cultural institutions in ways we are only now beginning to imagine," Rick Bolton, director of broadband in the Razorfish Los Angeles office said.

MOCA's enhanced Web site at www.moca.org will be launched in February.

In addition, MOCA has also significantly enhanced its visitor services, expanded its educational campaign and will open the MOCA Gallery at the Pacific Design Center on Jan. 14.

Fund-raising has also been a top priority for Strick and other MOCA officials this year. In the spring, MOCA received a $10 million gift from trustee Dallas Price, the largest gift in the museum's history. The donation was made in honor of Strick and former MOCA director Richard Koshalek.

Like most local museums, MOCA's biggest challenge in the year ahead will be trying to attract a larger audience in the city's increasingly complex and competitive cultural environment.

Cultural competition

A major impetus for the campaign, Strick explained, is to show people why they should come to MOCA instead of going to a movie or a baseball game.

Armed with one of America's preeminent contemporary art collections, a healthy operating budget of approximately $20 million, and aggressive educational and public relations campaigns, MOCA attracted nearly 500,000 national and international visitors last year.

But not all local museums are competing as effectively as MOCA. Some are struggling to stay operational and others, like the Latino Museum of History, Culture and Art, have been forced to shut down.

The Latino Museum was nearly $500,000 in debt when its doors closed last August, with no prospects of new funding or revenue sources in the offing, according to one board member.

Though the Board hopes to save the Latino Museum through a volunteer campaign aimed at raising major contributions, the institution's future is uncertain at best.

MOCA's financial future is much brighter. And its prospects for an increased audience will certainly be enhanced if the Los Angeles Music Center's plan for reshaping downtown's "cultural corridor" goes forward.

If approved, the three-phase plan would integrate the Music Center with the new Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels by creating pedestrian walkways and a 20-acre park.

MOCA is located at 250 South Grand Avenue, about one block from the Music Center.

The plan also calls for a new public reception hall between the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Mark Taper forum and a new Center Theater Group building across Temple Street that would be expanded to include a children's theater and rehearsal hall.

The Music Center's plan is not fully developed and still requires formal approval from city and county agencies.

"The improvements would have a significant impact on the museum in terms of visibility and increased traffic," Katherine Lee, MOCA's media relations coordinator said.

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