MOCAD parts ways with new director

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit is once again looking for a new leader, three months after hiring an executive director.

In a statement Thursday, the museum confirmed that its executive committee had "parted ways" with Cara Courage, the former head of Tate Exchange at Tate Modern in London, as MOCAD's executive director, whose appointment was just announced Feb. 1. No reason was given for her departure.

"After lengthy conversations, both Committees decided to rescind their offer of employment," said the museum in a statement.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit reinstalled "Everything is going to be alright," Martin Creed’s exterior neon artwork from 2007, for the museum's 10th anniversary.

Elyse Foltyn, MOCAD's board chair, didn't comment on why Courage's employment offer was rescinded but said the museum is dedicated to hiring the right person to lead it into the future.

"We take our responsibility to serve the people of Detroit and our communities very seriously," said Foltyn in a statement. "MOCAD is internationally known to deliver dynamic conversations and exhibitions, exemplified by the four exhibitions that opened at the museum this month. We will ensure our new executive leader continues to deliver on this and reflects the vision of the museum

The leadership shakeup marks the latest turmoil for MOCAD, which has faced a series of challenges over the last two years. The museum's previous director, Elysia Borowy, who Courage was hired to replace, was fired in July of 2020 amid accusations from former staff and interns of creating a toxic workplace.

Bowery said in February that a settlement agreement she signed with the museum states she was fired for no cause. 

At the time of Courage's appointment three months ago, MOCAD, which has a $1.95 million budget and 26 employees, said she brought "worldly leadership and expertise from the arts sector with a specialization in collaborative placemaking and activist arts, which she will use to center Detroit’s communities in developing MOCAD as a site for positive social, diverse and equitable change."

Courage was hired after a more than year-long search that included a "large pool" of local and international candidates. She started working remotely on a part-time contractual basis in mid-February and was supposed to move to full-time but MOCAD rescinded its offer of full-time employment on April 15. 

Cara Courage, the former head of the Tate Exchange at Tate Modern in London, was announced as MOCAD's new executive director on Feb. 1.

"There is a lot for me to say goodbye to... on this side of the Atlantic – yet, I will be joining an incredible team, in an amazing museum and city, its a once in a lifetime opportunity," Courage, who'd been with Tate Exchange for four years, wrote on Linkedin three months ago. "Detroit here I come!"

MOCAD said its executive committee and search committee are now moving forward with a search process for a new executive leader "that aligns with MOCAD’s institutional values." The executive director role also will be redefined.

"The committees will work together to redefine this role to be more strongly focused on the artistic vision of the organization," said MOCAD in its statement Thursday. "This search will include Detroit-based candidates who fit the defined criteria."

For now, Deputy Director Marie Madison-Patton will lead the museum while a new search is conducted.

"Her unwavering commitment and decade-long tenure at MOCAD will ensure a smooth transition during the upcoming search process," said the museum.