LITTLE TOKYO, Calif. – Two months after the Museum of Contemporary Art announced a bold plan to offer free admission to everyone, COVID-19 forced the closure of museums everywhere. Artist Douglas Meyer worked there as a gallery attendant and was recently temporarily laid off along with all 97 part-time employees.
“I’ve worked here for about four years now and one of the reasons I really loved working at MOCA is just being able to go ahead and put a face to a name of a lot of these artists, “ said artist Douglas Meyer. “People would come and they've heard about artists, but they don't really know who they are.”
Originally from Ohio, Douglas moved to L.A. with his girlfriend 17 years ago to pursue his passion for sculpture and ink and brush drawing. He found working at MOCA provided him with a foundation to pursue his dream.
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“One of the neat things about Nancy Rubins, she worked with Chris Burden,” explained Meyer as he pointed to her enormous sculpture installed outside The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. “They were actually a couple. And the two of them worked together both as artists. And were both partners in the art world as well as partners in life.”
It’s one of Douglas’s favorite stories to share with visitors and why gallery attendants are so important to the enjoyment of any museum. But MOCA does not know when they can expect to reopen and without funding from a benefactor, university, or the city, they notified all part-time employees of the layoffs, which includes gallery attendants, installers, retail and box office, the educational team as well as the AV crew.
“When they gave us the notice of our layoffs, we had lots of questions but with our union we had the ability to get some answers,” said Meyer. “We are expecting that senior members of staff and people with seniority will be called back immediately once we get the all-clear.”
But reopening large spaces like museums will be tricky. Social distancing standards will reduce attendance and visitors may be wary. Until MOCA reopens, part-time employees like Douglas will have to find other ways to pay their bills. Still, Douglas is hopeful his seniority within the organization will allow him to return.
“We're not essential workers, but we're very necessary,” said Meyer. “I mean where would L.A. be without creative ambassadors like myself. I'm the one who's giving you information, access. If we aren't there to be able to go ahead and let you in, how are you ever going to get there?”
To be a creative capital, artists need to be employed.