MOCA Cleveland Executive Director Steps Down
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland announced Friday that executive director Jill Snyder has stepped down after 23 years in that role. The organization had recently apologized to artist Shaun Leonardo, whose exhibit, The Breath of Empty Space, curated by former Clevelander John Chaich, was scheduled to be on view at moCa in the Summer. The Breath of Empty Space deals with the murder of Black men at the hands of police. It was critically acclaimed by Brooklyn Rail when it was exhibited earlier this year at the Maryland Institute College of Art. moCa had cancelled the exhibit in March, writing an apology to the artist at the time, but leaving it to him to make it public. moCa apologized publicly early in June, after the artist had released the original. The public apology, posted on moCa’s website, reads in part:
. . . “We received feedback from a few voices in the activist community who advised that this presentation at moCa could stir trauma, leading to pain and harm. This was echoed by moCa staff members. In responding to this feedback, regretfully we did not engage Mr. Leonardo in creating space for dialogue and debate. We did not expand the conversation within our community. We prevented ourselves and our community from having the difficult and urgent conversations that contemporary art seeks to advance. Our actions impacted Mr. Leonardo, the curator John Chaich, and many others negatively. We are sorry. As has been made clear these past weeks, the time has come to confront racism with unflinching honesty.”
Ms. Snyder’s resignation marks the third departure of a top executive in the Northeast Ohio arts sector in recent years amid difficult conversations about race and other matters, following that of Mark Masuoka from the Akron Art Museum earlier this year and of former Cuyahoga Arts and Culture director Karen Gahl Mills in 2018.
A full press release from moCa about Snyder’s resignation follows:
Jill Snyder to Step Aside as Executive Director of moCa Cleveland
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Cleveland, June 19, 2020 – The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (moCa) today announced that Jill Snyder has resigned after 23 years as Executive Director to begin a transition to new leadership for this trailblazing contemporary art institution. To ensure a smooth executive transition, she will continue to consult with the Board and senior management team over the coming year.
The Board will form a search committee for a new Executive Director, which will begin its work this summer. Effective immediately, Megan Lykins Reich, currently moCa’s Deputy Director, will assume the role of Interim Executive Director and work closely with the Board to manage moCa operations, artistic staff and social programs.
“I came to this decision with the understanding that the world at large, and our museum in particular, are in a powerful moment of disruption and possibility. For that reason, as deeply as I love moCa and as proud as I am of what I have built over the years with our Board, staff, and community, with my departure I embrace this as an opportunity to advance the movement for change that is now sweeping through our culture,” said Snyder. “Through recent programming, moCa has demonstrated a desire to work in the territory of inclusion, equity, and community. Now it is time to select a progressive and innovative leader for the next phase in our history who will carry forward this work with new passion. For that new leader to have a seat at the table, I willingly give up my chair.”
“The Board expresses its deepest gratitude to Jill for her tireless work on behalf of our institution and for the innumerable contributions she has made for our members, patrons, and the community at large,” said moCa Board President Larry Oscar. “In keeping with the ideals that she has articulated, members of our Board are already involved in efforts for inclusion and equity in their careers and communities, and they have made these goals a priority at moCa as well. We now turn to the work of identifying a visionary new leader who will maintain and advance moCa’s artistic and programmatic mission while opening us to the new possibilities that come with change.”
Snyder assumed leadership of the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art in 1996 and subsequently renamed the institution the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. In 2000, she launched the initiative to relocate the museum to a more prominent and active site in the city—a project that culminated in 2012 with the opening of the new permanent home, designed by Farshid Moussavi in association with Cleveland-based record architect and engineers DLR Group/Westlake Reed Leskosky, as a centerpiece of the cultural, educational, and medical institutions in the University Circle district.
Under her leadership, moCa recently celebrated its 50th anniversary season, featuring a centerpiece exhibition of seminal works by Lee Mingwei (who had received his first solo US museum exhibition at moCa twenty years earlier), the inaugural presentation of Toby’s Prize winner Sondra Perry’s A Terrible Thing, the first solo museum presentation in the United States of Beijing based artist Liu Wei, and a new group of Open House initiatives including free admission for all. Snyder advanced the museum’s engagement with the nationwide For Freedoms project through a series of Town Halls featuring community discourse on relevant social issues.
About moCa Cleveland
For fifty years, the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (moCa) has played a vital role in the city’s cultural landscape. A kunsthalle in the Midwest, moCa is a conduit and catalyst for creativity and inspiration, offering exhibitions and programs that provide public value and make meaning of the art and ideas of our time.
Since its founding in 1968, moCa has presented the works of more than three thousand artists, often through artists’ first solo shows. moCa was the first in the region to exhibit the works of many vanguard artists, including Laurie Anderson, Christo, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol. Recent artist commissions and solo exhibitions include work by Cathie Opie, Aleksandra Domanović, Tauba Auerbach, Ragnar Kjartansson, Simon Denny, Byron Kim, Lisa Oppenheim, Sara VanDerBeek, Adam Pendleton, Do Ho Suh, and Michelle Grabner, alongside the presentation of numerous artists from the region.