Museum of Latin America Art, Long Beach (MOLAA)
On November 5th, 2012 the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Latin America Art, Long Beach (MOLAA), announced the departure of Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, who had served as vice president of curatorial affairs and chief curator of the museum since 2009. Prior to assuming the position at MOLAA, Ms. Fajardo-Hill was director and chief curator of the Cisneros Fontanals Arts Foundation and the Ella Fontanals Cisneros Collection in Miami. Ms. Fajardo-Hill was not fired. Rather, the board simply eliminated the position, along with three other full-time posts as part of a 15% cut in the budget.
Director and CEO, Stuart A. Ashman justified Fajardo-Hill’s departure on the basis of a supposed decline in membership and attendance over the last few years. Though the statistics he cites have been questioned, the argument nonetheless points to the ideas behind the museum board’s decisions and their disregard for the quality and intellectual substance of public programs.
Mr. Ashman indeed failed to mention that Fajardo-Hill's vision transformed the institution from a provincial family museum to a site of true debate and exchange with specialized art audiences across Latin America. Under her tenure MOLAA acquired prominence in the field through the organization of significant exhibitions, based on rigorous scholarship, as well as partnerships with national and international art institutions. MOLAA also became central in creating bridges between North and South through initiatives like the mayor symposium Between Theory and Practice: Rethinking Latin American Art in the 21st Century in Los Angeles and Lima.
Beyond the particular issues that may have motivated Fajardo-Hill’s departure, the move to eliminate the position of chief curator, so central for an art museum, threatens the process of professionalization that MOLAA had initiated. In addition, the museum's engagement with the region is seriously jeopardized by the absence of clear curatorial leadership. More generally, the decision also calls into question institutional policies that work against the museum’s stated mission of educating the public on Latin American art, as well as the fundamental principles of a public trust.