The Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami seems to have made it through the storm. Now comes the hard work of keeping it on an even keel and moving forward. After a year of contention between what is now the museum’s former board and the city, attorneys announced a settlement on Wednesday that should put the long-running dispute to rest. Control, as usual, was at issue.
Now the city, too often plagued with political ineptitude, allegations of corruption and less-than-visionary leadership, must focus on making MOCA the thriving centerpiece of downtown redevelopment. At the same time, the museum, which receives a substantial city subsidy, must ensure that it is a welcoming and engaging place for residents; builds on the educational outreach that started under its first director, Bonnie Clearwater; and maintains its well-earned standing as an arts leader on the national and international stages.
The key to MOCA’s future lies in recognizing the reasons for its past success. First, its former board of directors — which decamped to the Design District after its relationship with the city became irreparably damaged — was made up of a group of broadly respected and influential volunteers. This board, though not always a well-oiled machine, understood the standards of quality and service that a museum is expected to deliver. This understanding drove just about every thing MOCA did in the name of community engagement and artistic presentation. In other words, it hewed to a clear and achievable vision. Fortunately, the settlement includes MOCA holding on to most of its 600-work collection.
It is important that any new board — there is an interim board in place now — and the city work cooperatively. And it’s critically important the the city keep politics out of the equation.
As significant is the need for professional staff leadership. MOCA’s new director, Babacar M’Bow, staged an impressive opening in September, his first at the museum. Well-attended, and with a thought-provoking exhibit of local artists, it signaled the potential for a bright future. He should work to continue the level of professionalism that permeated the institution, from administrators to docents to security guards.
Last, the museum needs a solid business plan, one that works hand-in-hand with its artistic plan. Again, this is the responsibility of both the city and the museum — they have to know what they want to do and how they are going to pay for it. Already Mr. M’Bow has outlined plans for the museum and programming, including an initiative that he calls MOCA 2020, his plan to develop new exhibits and educational programming by that year, in addition to using warehouse space to give local artists venues in which to create.
Mr. M’Bow has said that the city must find new ways of making the museum a profitable institution. “We have to keep cultural money in the city and use that to attract outside support,” he told city staff earlier this year. He’s right.
In addition, as city leaders plan to redevelop downtown, MOCA can be a focal point that is better woven into the business and cultural fabric of the 125th Street corridor of storefront businesses. In the past, some nearby merchants told the Editorial Board, that MOCA failed to reach out and be an active partner that helped turn patrons into customers of their businesses.
MOCA’s new path presents several opportunities for North Miami, which should not be squandered.