NEW YORK — Though admired for years as a well-performing underdog in a big city, the future of New York's Museum of Biblical Art (MoBiA) has begun to look more and more precarious. USA Today reports that funding for the seven-year-old institution may dry up in the next few years, even as director Ena Heller, citing a wish "to run another museum," will be stepping down from her post in July. Though her departure is on amicable terms, no successor has yet been named. In addition, there have been rumors — vigorously denied by the museum's board — that the institution may lose an uncommonly generous lease on their building at 61st and Broadway.
As MoBiA awaits its fate, ARTINFO assembles a brief guide of what you need to know about the scrappy Upper West Side institution:
Leveraging Its Assets
Even if you haven't heard about MoBiA's work, it has managed to pull off some impressive scholarly feats with its resources. In New York, it may be best known for shows that would be hard to place anywhere else, including last month's exhibition "Selection of Soldiers' Bibles," but its biggest contribution might be its work with other museums, many of which are much more prestigious. "Adoration of the Magi," a Renaissance altarpiece by Bartolo di Fredi now on view at the museum, was originally created as a tryptich. To reassemble it for exhibition, the museum took loans from the University of Virginia Art Museum in Charlottesville, Siena's Pinacoteca, and the Lindenau Museum in Altenburg, Germany, in addition to borrowing another Fredi rendition of the "Adoration" from the Metropolitan Museum and his "Adoration of the Shepherds" from the Cloisters.
Friends in High Places
Who supports MoBiA? By far the museum's biggest benefactor has been the American Bible Society, a bicentenarian organization with reported assets of $532 million in 2011. Itself a non-profit institution, the ABS founded the museum in 2005 and has contributed to about 50 percent of its annual budget. Since it has announced plans to wind down its support to zero by 2015, questions have emerged about who will take their place.
Biblical Art Museum with a Secular Purpose
Although MoBiA's focus has been on art related to Judaism and Christianity, the museum prides itself as a non-denominational, non-profit institution. This isn't to say, however, that they are without conservative ties; board member Roberta Ahmanson was named by TIME's among the "25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America" in 2005, and the LA Times reports that her husband's company, Fieldstead & Co., donated more than $1 million to "Yes to 8," an organization dedicated to upholding California's ban on same-sex marriage.
UPDATE: Ena Heller, who could not be reached immediately for comment, responded on Thurdsday afternoon to concerns about the the ABS's plans to reduce its funding for the museum. "That’s something that we’ve known all along," Heller told ARTINFO, naming an array of private and public institutions that will make up MoBiA's support system in years to come, including the New York State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Samuel Kress Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation, the David Berg Foundation, and the Andy Warhold Foundation.
Heller also spoke to questions about her successor as director, telling ARTINFO that the museum will appoint an Acting Director to fill her duties while the search for a permanent director is still underway. The acting director should be named next week, she said, adding, "I feel that I leave this museum in a good place."