Feud Between North Miami and Its Contemporary Art Museum Escalates

Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, Florida.
Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, Florida. Photo: courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The ongoing conflict between the city of North Miami and its Museum of Contemporary Art shows no signs of abating, according to the New York Times.

The city and museum have appointed dueling interim directors, with the city attempting to replace Alex Gartenfeld with their own appointee, Babacar M’Bow, who is attempting to run the show in exile from City Hall, next-door to the museum.

The museum claims the city has failed to provide adequate funding and to maintain and repair the building. City officials call the institution’s plan to decamp to wealthier Miami Beach by merging with the Bass Museum an attempt to steal the art collection, which they claim is city property.

However, the museum’s facilities are so small that there is only space for one or two exhibitions at any given time, and nowhere to display the impressive permanent collection. A $15 million bond proposal that would have financed an ambitious expansion was rejected by voters in 2012. The city is accused of failing to pay Gartenfeld’s salary, make needed repairs to a leaking roof, and to provide adequate security.

While the museum claims the city was informed of its talks to join forces with the Bass in August 2013, the mayor’s office claims the merger plan was initially dismissed by museum officials as a rumor. They say they were shocked to learn in February that the deal was nearly finalized.

North Miami officials are quick to point out that the Museum of Contemporary Art’s stated mission is “dedicated to making contemporary art accessible to diverse audiences—especially underserved populations.” Part of their opposition to the merger stems from the differing socioeconomic make-up of North Miami (60 percent black) versus its southern neighbor (only 4.4 percent black).

“That museum was built to enhance the city,” local art collector and museum donor Rosa de la Cruz told the Times. “The collection belongs to the people.”

Currently, the two parties are awaiting court-ordered mediation. The museum has moved summer programming off-site, and has a dearth of scheduled exhibitions, leaving its future uncertain.

UPDATE: The museum’s PR firm tells artnet News that Babacar M’Bow is not a rival interim director to Alex Gartenfeld. He has been recently nominated to the position by city hall, as it attempts to reassert its control over the institution.

In addition, the Miami Herald reports that North Miami mayor Lucie Tondreau has been charged by the Feds for her role in an $8 million mortgage fraud scheme.


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