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After more than a year without a permanent director, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami is still looking for stability and to help strengthen the museum’s leadership.
The city council approved a step at Tuesday’s meeting that city leaders hope will move the museum in the right direction: approving new guidelines for the museum’s board of trustees including a reduction in the members needed for a quorum; establishing how many years the board members will serve; and several other changes.
The board will now only need six members present to conduct business. It can have up to 31 members and currently has about 24 members. The council will appoint 10 members and up to 20 members will be chosen by the other board members.
Some speakers and council members expressed concern about the quorum reduction and said the onus should be on board members to make time for their duties.
“If they want to be on the board, they need to have a more vested interest,” Vice Mayor Scott Galvin said.
Board members currently must each pay annual dues of $10,000, or donate an artwork, to the museum. City leaders also discussed raising the dues to $25,000 annually. That increase isn’t included in the item the city council approved Tuesday, but City Manager Larry Spring and interim Museum Director Natasha Colebrook-Williams have considered the increase.
Some speakers said they felt that increase would be too steep and the city should focus on appointing a permanent director.
“I’m a little disturbed to hear that we go meeting after meeting, after meeting, after meeting without a peep about MOCA or any sign of interest about MOCA but when it does finally come up it turns out to be a shake down,” said William Prevatel. “It seems like our city rarely ever learns from the mistakes we make.”
The city has been without a permanent director since the end of 2015 when Babacar M’Bow was fired following allegations of sexual harassment. The city’s investigation into the allegations revealed multiple reports of M’Bow using inappropriate language and sexual innuendo with staff members. He consistently denied the allegations.
Since then, the museum has been searching to find someone who can lead MOCA back to the prominence it had when it was led by Bonnie Clearwater, the museum’s director from 1997 to 2013, when she left to lead the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art at Nova Southeastern University.
After Clearwater left, the relationship between the city and then-board members became strained. Board members sued North Miami in 2014, citing a lack of city support for the museum and a failed $15 million bond issue in 2012 that would have paid for a renovation and expansion of MOCA.
The lawsuit was settled in November 2014. Later, the board members left and started the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami’s Design District.
Other changes in Tuesday’s ordinance include:
▪ Removal of the North Miami resident requirement for board members appointed by the city council.
▪ Removal of language stating that the board members should represent “the diverse populations of the North Miami community.”
▪ The council-appointed trustees will serve for three years and board-appointed members will serve for two years.
▪ The museum director will take over the duties of reporting records and finances to the city instead of the board chairman.
▪ Board members could be removed, through a majority vote by the board, if they miss two consecutive meetings.
▪ Board meetings will be open to the public and board members will not be allowed to send proxies or representatives to the meetings.
Colebrook-Williams said the changes are an effort to increase engagement from the board. She said that the past three meetings have been canceled due to lack of quorum, and that financial donations have decreased.
The current board of trustees, selected by M’Bow, includes several real estate figures and developers.
North Miami has spent about $3 million to support the museum’s operations since the 2014 split, including about $1.4 million set aside in the 2017 budget.
“The idea is this will be a viable group of people who will run the museum without the financial obligation that the city has taken on to support it all along,” City Attorney Jeff Cazeau said.
Colebrook-Williams and the city manager said the executive director candidates have been interviewed and that the city has reached out to Michael Spring, the Miami-Dade cultural affairs chief, and to Pérez Art Museum Miami director Franklin Sirmans.
In the past year the museum has hosted exhibits featuring the work of French-Guadeloupean artist Marielle Plaisir, Venezuelan artist Rolando Pena, and “Intersectionality” an exhibit touching on themes like gender identity, race and homophobia. The museum is currently hosting the South Florida Cultural Consortium through Aug. 6.
Staff members hope to eventually present a new memorandum of understanding between the city and museum. The new agreement would address changes like the minimum annual dues for board members.
The ordinance will require a second vote which is expected at the June 27 meeting.