MOCA North Miami Rocked by New Harassment Claims Against Director
He vows to "prove the falsity" of the allegations.
Babacar M’Bow, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami (MOCA), was placed on paid administrative leave on December 10 in response to allegations of employee harassment.
According to an internal memo addressed to M’Bow, interim city manager Arthur Sorey warned him that “an investigation of this complaint will be conducted.” The memo continued, “You are not permitted to come to MOCA, City Hall, or any city events until this investigation is concluded.”
When asked for comment by artnet News, M’Bow, who is in Bogota, Colombia on business, said in an email, “I have knowledge of neither who filled this horrible lie and the manipulators at city hall. Remain certain that these are false, go against my politics and I will prove the falsity.”
M’Bow’s tenure at MOCA began under controversial circumstances, during times of elevated tension between the city and the museum board. In 2012, the city rejected a $15 million expansion plan for the museum. Director Bonnie Clearwater decamped for Nova Southeastern University’s Museum of Art in 2013, leaving newly-hired curator Alex Gartenfeld to hold the post as interim director.
In April 2014, after exploring the possibility of merging with the Bass Museum in Miami Beach, MOCA sued the city for breach of contract, in part for failing to pay Gartenfeld’s salary. It was against that backdrop that the city moved to hire M’Bow. However, the museum board rejected the appointment in late May.
The situation worsened when M’Bow attempted to host a symposium at the museum without getting formal approval from the board, who was still battling his appointment. The institution then invited M’Bow to submit an official proposal for the event, which he ignored.
When a museum employee told M’Bow that he could not hold the symposium, an e-mail exchange quickly regressed into accusations of racism. The museum, which made an official complaint to the city about “M’Bow’s highly aggressive, antagonistic, and vicious statements,” ultimately allowed the symposium to take place, but the conflict was at a boiling point.
The board officially packed up and moved down to the Design District, reforming in August as the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami, and taking much of the institution’s art collection with it. M’Bow has served uncontested as MOCA’s director ever since.
In response to the sexual harassment allegations, at least one member of M’Bow’s staff has come to his defense. MOCA assistant director for education and international programs Adrienne von Lates, citing his “high character and integrity and high morals,” told Local 10 that “I think whatever is happening is exaggerated.”
Whatever issues the museum currently has, they appear to extend beyond M’Bow: Sorey also told Local 10 that MOCA’s assistant director, Alan Waufle, is out on paid administrative leave as well, due to office misconduct. As of publication time, the city had not responded to artnet News’ requests for comment.
UPDATE: “It’s not sexual harassment,” a public information specialist for the city of North Miami clarified to artnet News in a phone call. “The employee thought that the work environment was hostile.” Waufle, who admitted to using “inappropriate gender language,” has received a three-day suspension and will return to work on Monday.
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