Visual Arts

Miami’s art museum gets anonymous $15 million gift

The latest big donor to the future Pérez Art Museum Miami won’t have a named wing or even a modest plaque memorializing the gift.

In a public announcement shrouded in secrecy, the Miami Art Museum said Friday that an anonymous donor had pledged $12 million in cash and $3 million in art.

“I can say almost nothing about it except that I’m thrilled,” said Museum Director Thom Collins.

Still and possibly forever unclear: how exactly the gift came about, whether the giver has an established relationship with the museum, what the donated art is and why the benefactor wants to remain anonymous.

“We talked back and forth and ended up with this wonderful gift,” said Aaron Podhurst, chairman of the museum’s board of trustees. “That’s all I can say. It’s a person who wants to do very good things in the community.”

The gift, among the largest yet to the institution, was announced to a crowd of more than 350 at the annual corporate luncheon held at the Mandarin Oriental, Miami.

Now just months away from completion, the Herzog & de Meuron-designed museum overlooking Biscayne Bay has been in serious fundraising mode for years. A general obligation bond approved by Miami-Dade voters in 2004 provides for about $100 million in public money, the largest single contribution to the project.

Museum officials have a total budget of $220 million for construction, transition costs and an endowment.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation gave $10 million to the museum in 2008.

In 2011, developer Jorge Pérez earned naming rights to the museum with his pledge of $35 million — $20 million cash, including $5 million that had been pledged previously, and $15 million in art. (The gift is now valued at $40 million because the art was appraised at $20 million, the museum says.)

The decision to change the current name of Miami Art Museum to honor an individual donor was controversial, prompting some board members and collectors to withdraw support.

But others have stepped up with major gifts.

Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins and a Pérez business partner, donated $1 million last May. In December, Miguel “Mike” Fernandez, chairman of private equity firm MBF Healthcare Partners and a longtime friend of Pérez, agreed to give $5 million to the museum.

And earlier this year, Knight Foundation vice president/arts Dennis Scholl and his wife, Debra, gave about 300 pieces from their own art collection to the museum, a donation worth millions.

The latest gift comes with no strings attached, Collins said. Currently under construction at Museum Park in downtown, PAMM is set to open in December. The new gift brings the museum to 85 percent of its $220 million goal.

“We’re well past the brick-and-mortar costs now for fundraising,” Collins said.

“This money will go into the endowment.”

Collins said the museum already has selected the work or works of art — but, of course, he wouldn’t reveal more.

“I can only tell you that the art is wonderful,” he said.