Name Changer is a Game Changer – CAF turns into MCA — what does it mean for art in SB?

'Seen (Detail),'Sanford Biggers Museum of Contemporary Art SB
‘Seen (Detail),’Sanford Biggers
Museum of Contemporary Art SB

Miki Garcia knew something was working when Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum (aka CAF, as most locals call it) changed its name to MCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art. She was standing outside and heard a couple walk past, on the way from the carpark to the steps leading to the ground floor of Paseo Nuevo. “Oh, there’s a museum here!” said one to the other. Maybe they had passed the Forum many times, maybe this was their first time here, but the point was taken: it’s a museum and everybody knows what that does.

For regular visitors to CAF, the switch may have seemed cosmetic and unheralded. But it’s that couple that Ms. Garcia keeps in mind.

 'What's Love Got to Do With It?,' Mickalene Thomas

‘What’s Love Got to Do With It?,’ Mickalene Thomas
Sweathouseand Little Principals,'Peter Shelton
Sweathouseand Little Principals,’Peter Shelton
 Dawn SurfJelly Film (Detail),'Jennifer West

Dawn SurfJelly Film (Detail),’Jennifer West
“We had a visibility problem,” she says. “It wasn’t apparent what we do.” But this change to MCA signals a greater change in the museum’s goal and place in Santa Barbara.

“There’s a big gap between San Francisco and Los Angeles for a contemporary art museum, and we want to step in a fill that gap,” Ms. Garcia says.

It was an idea a long time coming. Many CAF boards before the current incarnation had considered the change-over and with it a future accreditation with the American Alliance of Museums. But three years ago, CAF received a $250,000 from the James Irvine Foundation, and with that, CAF set out to make a strategic plan. “Before that, we didn’t even have a common consensus of what we were doing,” Ms. Garcia says, “Apart from a year-to-year review. So that compelled us to look at our organization.”

So the plan, created over two years, became a roadmap.

“We have already been acting like a museum,” she says. “We’ve been taking risks with our artists — and encouraging them. We’re not just interested in the avant-garde, but in publications and scholarships like museums are. We are interested in outreach and educational programs, visitor services.”

So now that the name has been changed, what can people expect?

Ms. Garcia has her eye on various ideas. One is to bring in traveling exhibitions, like other museums host, or even to team up with other museums. They may bring in more established artists to work with the kind of up-and-coming artists that CAF has been known to support. Their satellite gallery on lower State, in Hotel Indigo, is just one of the ideas that MCA has for the future.

Currently, MCA has no permanent collection, but may look at that in the future.

“Alternative art spaces are think tanks in a way, by artists, for artists,” Ms. Garcia says. “But we see a broader mission to bring the arts of our time to audiences beyond art makers. We have a density of artists in Santa Barbara, but not a density that can support an institution alone.”

Having said that, the current exhibition by Dasha Shishkin is very much in the CAF vein, with its unorthodox use of space as well as its subject matter. CAF has changed into MCA, but its real change has been happening for years already. After 37 years, it’s time to retire the Forum, and claim the Museum as Santa Barbara’s own.

For the curious, MCA will be offering an open house this weekend with a raffle, door prizes, live DJ music and food and drink.

MCA Open House
When: 1 to 3 p.m. Sat.
Where: Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, Paseo Nuevo (upstairs)
Cost: Free

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