Something Really Exciting’s Brewing in the West End (MOCA!)

The long-awaited re-opening of MOCA ( is scheduled for Spring 2018, and based on a sneak preview I was given, it’s going to be phenomenal.

While I’ve been sworn to secrecy on some specifics, I can reveal enough so you can share my excitement.

Great Building, Emerging Neighbourhood

The new MOCA.jpg

MOCA will occupy the first five floors of the Auto Building at 158 Sterling Road in the Lower Junction. Completed in 1919, at 10 storeys it was the tallest building in Toronto and a manufacturing maverick – all other factories were built horizontally, not vertically. Each concrete slab floor is the same size – making museum navigation much more intuitive – and is supported by giant columns of gradually diminishing size. [Cool fact: the Leo Burnett-designed gorgeous typography for MOCA hat tips this architectural history.]

MOCA is one piece of a revitalization of the formerly industrial Lower Junction neighbourhood. The 8-acre complex will see the addition of mid-rise condominiums, townhouses, retail and commercial over the next decade. There will be parking (mostly underground), but perhaps more importantly is how well served the neighbourhood is by transit (Landsdowne, Dundas West, GO Train and UP Express.)

Remarkable Leadership

MOCA Director of Programs, November Paynter

MOCA Director of Programs, November Paynter

There’s a fantastic team leading MOCA. The re-opening of MOCA represents a homecoming for its newly-appointed executive director and CEO, Heidi Reitmaier, who comes by way of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, MCA.  Working hand in hand are MOCA curator David Liss (whose first exhibition I’m thrilled to say will touch on a very relevant and timely current issue) and director of programs November Paynter, who has an extensive background in the European art scene. Most interestingly they have created a brand new role – “Constituent Curator” held by Nahed Mansour – whose exclusive mandate is to work with the Museum’s users and local community. Which brings me to my next point.

A Truly “Constituent” Museum

With this rebuilding, MOCA is taking the opportunity to create a really different museum-going experience. By reframing “visitors” as “users of the space,” MOCA is trying to include everyone in the building of their culture in a non-hierarchical way. What does this actually mean?

Out of the five floors, three will be accessible without having to pay admission. The main floor will not only be an extension of the exhibitions (which will occupy the 2nd and 3rd floors, about 18,000 SF of exhibition space, and will change about 3x per year), with its own installations and thinking, but it will be constantly changing, with things like impromptu, unscheduled performances. As Julia Ouellette, MOCA’s tireless Chair of the Board for the last 12 years told me,  “we want people to come on a Monday and then have a completely different experience on Thursday.”  The main floor will also have a flexible space that can be used for anything from an auditorium to a play area, with seating light enough to be lifted by children. The fourth floor will have around 20 studios where practicing local artists will be able to work alongside artists on international residencies as well as an 80 -100 person workshop space, while the fifth floor will feature a lounge, meeting rooms, research area and administrative offices.

MOCA is also serious about truly engaging with the local community, becoming a place that matters in local residents’ lives. To get a flavour for this, check out their community videos  or attend one of their free talks on The Museum is Not What it Used To Be or their monthly speaker series hosted at Henderson Brewery, The Art of Propogation (you gotta love when booze and brains mix.)

What Gets Me Most Excited

My favourite part of MOCA? That they’re willing to take risks. As Julia Ouellette noted, “MOCA is a work in progress, and we’re going to try new things. Some things may not work, and we’ll make mistakes. Nothing is written in stone. But we will listen to the community, and we will adapt.”

What more could you ask from a museum?