With Toronto’s Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MOCA) opening weekend behind us, the gallery intends to stand out from all other art institutions in Toronto. But will it?

MOCA reopened its doors in a new home on Sept. 22, taking up five floors of the city’s historic Tower Automotive Building. The heritage building, built in 1919, is located in Toronto’s Junction Triangle neighbourhood.

MOCA’s mission statement and mandate reads, “Exhibit, research, collect and nurture innovative contemporary art and cultural practices that engage with and address issues and themes relevant to our times.”

According to the gallery, the concept of community is a big factor in the redefining evolution of MOCA; its foundation lies upon the exchange of visitors and the art.  

“MOCA needs to be groundbreaking,” said Heidi Reitmaier, the executive director and chief executive officer of MOCA, who is concerned with building dialogue among a wide new audience, from local residents and international tourists, to students and donors.

David Liss is beginning this dialogue. As the curator of its first post-reopening show, Believe, he has curated the exhibition to include a range of national and international artists, such as Awol Erizku, who photographed Beyonce’s pregnancy shoot, and feminist artist Barbara Kruger.

Believe also includes commissioned pieces from Toronto artists Nep Sidhu and Rajni Perera.

With a long roster of international artists as part of this inaugural showcase, some in the community are concerned about MOCA’s ability to create cultural ties and dialogue with residents from its new neighbourhood.

Toronto-based artist, Lauren Graf, hopes there will be more interaction with the local community.

“What about the people that live around this area that are not the upper echelon of arts, educated society?” Graf said.

She questions the way art institutions create conversations with those who may not have frequent access to art.

“How are you, as a building and an institution, interacting with them, engaging with them and creating a meaningful discourse versus just showing them art that they don’t understand or don’t care to understand?”

Artists like Graf are becoming increasingly concerned about the expectations of what the MOCA means for art in Toronto.

Christopher Femi has followed MOCA’s journey since the early stages, and is an active member of the Toronto art scene. He said he believes the MOCA has potential to be a place that showcases meaningful art.

According to Femi, institutions like the Design Exchange tend to shy away from hostility or difficult discussions. He said this is not the approach MOCA should take.

“They need to have a very specific, pointed, concise vision of the type of contemporary art they want to put out,” he said. “Ideally something that is politicized and not everybody’s going to understand or agree with, but everyone can appreciate because it creates a level of discourse that is very important in Canadian art.”

This article will continue after the gallery.

Reitmaier’s belief of what the unity of artists means for the gallery is in line with MOCA’s mandate of addressing relevant and timely topics.

“What this diverse roster of artists will have in common is the interdisciplinary nature of their work and their aspiration for exploration of universal human experiences,” she said. “Multiple voices to advance social inclusion.”

Jim Anderson, who runs an artist-built recording studio across from the MOCA, said the gallery could be a significant addition to the arts scene if it sticks to its mission.

“I think the MOCA could mean something for Toronto,” he said. “Emphasis on could, if it is curated well and they stick with their heritage in the sense that what they’ve always been known for is actual contemporary up-and-coming artists who are truly pushing boundaries.”

But Anderson points out an institution like MOCA should do more than preach community; it should practice it. He notes the common theme of already-established Canadian artists found in the country’s art institutions.

“The way MOCA can succeed is if they actually attempt to forego the previous white heritage version of Canadian art and move into more and explore young artists, who have different experiences and have grown up in different ways that the traditionally Canadian artists have been associated with.”

The MOCA is open everyday from 10 A.M-5 P.M and is $5 for students.

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