MOCA North Miami Rejects City-Nominated Director

North Miami Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo: via Miami Art Scene.
North Miami Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo: via Miami Art Scene.

The Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami will not be hiring Babacar M’Bow, the city’s nominee, as its new director, reports the Miami Herald.

As artnet News reported earlier this month, controversy has plagued the museum in recent months. The city opposes the institution’s plans to decamp to less diverse and wealthier Miami Beach, depriving North Miami citizens of a valuable cultural asset—councilman Scott Galvin called the proposed Bass Museum merger a “modern-day art heist” during a City Council meeting last month.

For its part, the museum is charging the city with breach of contract, which specifies that the board “shall own, protect and manage the permanent MOCA collection of art, and all additions and modifications of the same.” MOCA alleges that the city has not paid interim director Alex Gartenfeld, or provided necessary maintenance to the building’s roof and air conditioning system.

The city vetoed $15 million bond referendum for a proposed MOCA expansion in 2012.

North Miami MOCA issued a statement explaining its refusal to consider M’Bow for the director position:

The Board of Trustees of the Museum of Contemporary Art has dismissed the City of North Miami’s nomination for a new museum director. The Board provided the candidate, Mr. Babacar M’Bow, with a two-week window to participate in a standard background check, which is a required step in evaluating the credentials of candidates for the position. Despite multiple notifications, Mr. M’Bow did not comply with the background check and is therefore no longer under consideration for the position. The Board is disappointed that Mr. M’Bow chose not to take part in the evaluation process. Alex Gartenfeld continues to serve in his dual position as Interim Director and Chief Curator with the full support of the Board.

In response, M’Bow told the Herald that the museum had only reached out to him once, in an email, dated May 13, requesting his social security number and a credit report. He didn’t recognize the sender, so he didn’t respond. M’Bow, the managing editor of the Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora and a local art gallery owner, has already undergone a screening at the hands of city hall.

“They [the museum] have never interviewed me, they have never called and said, ‘Give me the background information,’” said M’Bow to the Herald. “The board should have just asked the city to transfer the files to them.”

The city denounced MOCA’s dismissal of M’Bow as a “ceremonial disapproval” and “out of order” in a statement of its own:

As the museum director, Mr. M’Bow is a city employee. Just like every other city employee, the city already conducted a thorough background check of Mr. M’Bow. It is the role of the board to approve the director of MOCA based upon his or her qualifications as it pertains to art expertise and curatorial experience. This action is proof, once again, that the outgoing board of MOCA either does not understand or does not respect their roles or responsibilities.

It remains to be seen if the city will follow through on threats to sue the museum for its failure to confirm M’Bow as director. The museum filed suit against North Miami in April for failing to provide sufficient funding and other related offenses.

UPDATE: A representative of the MOCA assures artnet News that the museum properly identified itself when requesting M’Bow’s personal information. In addition to email correspondence, the museum also hand delivered a letter to M’Bow’s office.


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