MOCA donors: We gave to museum, not city of North Miami

Some collectors who donated work to the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami have filed a motion in court clarifying that their gifts were to the nonprofit museum, not to the city.

06/04/2014 5:25 PM

06/04/2014 5:52 PM

A handful of art collectors who have donated to the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami are seeking to clear up any confusion: They say they gave their art to the museum, not the city.

In a motion filed late Tuesday in the museum board’s lawsuit against the city, the collectors sought to explain the “intent behind their donations, which was always to donate to MOCA, the 501 (c)(3), and not to the city.”

The motion says that the donors took advantage of tax benefits by giving art and money to the nonprofit, and that they “could face potentially significant negative tax consequences” if the art were to remain with the city.

Despite the show of support in the new legal filing, attorney Alan Kluger, whose law firm Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine filed the breach of contract suit against North Miami in April, said MOCA is suffering as a result of the friction.

Grants that were expected are not coming in, he said, and some donors are no longer giving.

Last month, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation withdrew a $5 million endowment grant made to MOCA in 2007 due to the dispute. The money was moved to a fund at the Miami Foundation.

“It was expressly made to develop cutting-edge contemporary art in Miami-Dade,” said spokesman Andrew Sherry in an email. “We decided the funds needed to be moved in order to preserve the purpose of the grant.”

The donors who signed on to this week’s motion are Miami auto magnate Norman Braman and his wife, Irma Braman, who is co-chair of the MOCA board of trustees; fellow co-chair and president of the board Ray Ellen Yarkin and her husband, Allan Yarkin; Aventura collectors Paul and Estelle Berg; and the high-profile Martin Z. Margulies Foundation, which has its private collection in Wynwood.

Kluger said many other donors have contacted his office and will likely add their names to the suit.

“It was never their intent that the city of North Miami could make a grab for this art and say that it’s theirs,” he said. “And basically as the museum goes, so goes the art. These people will all get on the witness stand and say that’s their intent.”

City spokeswoman Pam Solomon said that the museum — not the board of trustees — owns the collection.

“It was never the intention for the art collection to belong to an individual, or group of individuals,” she said in an email.

While the board was set up to “maintain, manage and build the art collection” and oversee daily operations at the museum, Solomon said that the board still has to answer to the city.

“They are appointed by the City of North Miami in order to oversee and manage the museum in accordance with the museum’s mission, which is to serve the community by ‘making contemporary art accessible to diverse audiences — especially underserved populations,’ ” she said.

Relations between the art museum’s board and North Miami, which owns the facility that houses MOCA, have been strained since news became public in December that the board was considering a move to the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach. The board filed a lawsuit alleging breach of contract in April, claiming that the city wasn’t providing adequate maintenance or repairs, acceptable security or financial support for expansion.

North Miami has since appointed its own museum director, Babacar MBow, but the board of trustees has said it will not consider him because he did not submit information that would allow them to complete a background check. Chief curator Alex Gartenfeld has been acting as interim director since last summer.

Both sides have been ordered to participate in mediation, which is scheduled for June 16.

Kluger, the attorney representing the board, said he hopes that mediation will help the parties reach a settlement.

“We’re trying to get it resolved, but if it doesn’t get resolved, I think you’ll hear major moves that are being made because they have to get on with the business of a world-class art museum,” he said.

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