The city of North Miami is about to let a valuable jewel slip from its grasp. Its Museum of Contemporary Art, again in need of a director, can regain the respect, the cachet and the donors it once had only if city officials take the long view and realize that restoring the institution’s viability “isn’t a sprint — it’s a marathon.”
That’s the wise counsel of Michael Spring, the director of Miami-Dade County’s Department of Cultural Affairs, on the need for a thorough and professional search for a museum director who can build on MoCA’s reputation and smooth out the bumpy road on which it’s been traveling since powerhouse director and curator Bonnie Clearwater left in 2013.
But as reported this week by Herald writer Jordan Levin, city officials are in too much of a rush to hire a museum director and move on. The city, for example, has posted ads on several websites soliciting resumes from people who think they can run a museum. This is too passive and premature — a strictly Amateur Hour approach to finding the right leader — and one the city should abandon immediately for a more-thoughtful, two-step process.
The next permanent leader will define the direction and the growth of this public asset. But the lack of seriousness that city officials are displaying doesn’t inspire confidence.
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For instance, there is no search committee to find the best person for the position. In fact, City Commissioner Scott Galvin said, “This comes at a time when the whole museum is in flux, we have to move quickly.”
Is he saying that North Miami cannot afford to take its time and do the job correctly? Given the museum’s recent track record of turbulence, the city can’t afford to conduct anything less than a meticulous search. North Miami taxpayers already maintain the museum’s $1 million budget. And in return, MoCA has given them concerts, children’s art programs and other valuable initiatives. In addition, turning the surrounding neighborhood into an artsy destination for locals and tourists rests on MoCA as the centerpiece. If the museum goes under, so does the possibility of a dynamic corridor.
And their likely good intentions aside, MoCA’s board members skew heavily toward business people and developers, with hardly anyone bringing the heft of expertise in the visual arts. Again, this is not a recipe to attract the best person for the permanent job. Who, worth his or her salt, wants to walk into this frazzled situation?
After Ms. Clearwater left, MoCA was pitched into an ugly legal fracas between the city and the then-board of directors, which stormed off and took its “marbles,” a share of the museum’s art collection and created the Institute of Contemporary Art in the Design District. Last month, the city fired the subsequent director, Babacar M’Bow, after allegations of sexual harassment.
What MoCA needs most right now is stability. The city should proactively choose an interim director, smart about the art world and with some savvy business chops, to allay fears that the museum is adrift and to restore the strong foundation on which it once stood. At the same time, North Miami should engage a search firm that will solicit from among the most qualified candidates beyond the city’s borders. These are accepted best practices, and North Miami shouldn’t deviate from them.
This process should be as carefully curated as any art exhibit. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and neither North Miami nor MoCA can afford to rush irresponsibly into even more uncertainty.