Assessing the Mess That Is MOCA North Miami

The situation looks bleak.

The exterior of the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. Photo by Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

Taking the reins at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami (MoCA) is no easy task, considering the institution’s tumultuous history. Can the formerly-esteemed institution bounce back from years of turmoil, marked most recently by the firing of director Babacar M’Bow, who was accused of sexually harassing staff members?

“From a reputational standpoint and an economic standpoint, MoCA is what North Miami is known for,” North Miami council member Scott Galvin told Jordan Levin at the Miami Herald. Levin took a close look at the current situation at the museum, which currently has interim director Natasha Colebrook-Williams at the helm. He describes the board as “a work in progress,” with its new chairman, hotel designer and developer Frederic Marq, predicting 30 members in due time.

However, as Levin points out, it may be difficult to secure a robust board while the museum lacks a director. M’Bow reportedly scheduled shows for the duration of 2016, but “no exhibits are listed on the museum’s website beyond the current show, ‘Latin America and the Global Imagination,’ by Colombian painter Carlos Salas.”

The city is currently searching for a new director, but has reportedly not “formed a search committee or hired a search firm,” according to the Herald, which isn’t a good sign.

MoCA board members Adriana de Moura and Frederic Marq. Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for AYS.

MoCA board members Adriana de Moura and Frederic Marq. Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for AYS.

Since longtime director Bonnie Clearwater made her exit in 2013, tensions between the museum board and the city government have been fraught, to say the least.

The situation further deteriorated in 2014, with museum board threatening to merge with the Bass Museum in Miami Beach, and refusing to recognize M’Bow, the city-appointed director. (The clash involved a fiery e-mail exchange with accusations of racism.)

Eventually, the museum board and much of the staff left to form the Institute of Contemporary Art in the Miami Design District. After the exodus, MoCA’s continued existence wasn’t a guarantee.

Babacar M'Bow. Photo: courtesy Periodismo Sin Fronteras.

Babacar M’Bow.
Photo: courtesy Periodismo Sin Fronteras.

Many donors to the museum reportedly backed the board, claiming to have given to the institution, not the city. When the lawsuit was settled, MoCA kept the bulk of its collection, but the ICA reportedly walked away with many of the institution’s key works.

Three years after Clearwater’s departure, the situation looks bleak. According to the Herald, the board, which includes Real Housewives of Miami star Adriana De Moura, the so-called “Brazilian bombshell of the art scene,” seems to lack “people who are highly knowledgeable about visual art.”

With the right guiding hand, MoCA could certainly rebound, but whether the current board is capable of identifying and attracting capable leadership remains to be seen. “There are definitely voices out there saying this place is over, and that would be a real pity and a waste,” local independent curator Jane Hart told the Herald.

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