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MOCA mum on move rumors

Is the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami preparing to shed the “North Miami” from its name?

The Art Newspaper reported Thursday that the museum might be moving, and cited unnamed sources who said MOCA could potentially merge with the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach.

Thursday afternoon, MOCA interim director Alex Gartenfeld would only say that the board is “thinking very deeply about what the future of MOCA might hold.” But he said such conversations have been going on for years and there was no new urgency to those talks.

“There have been longstanding discussions and rumors about the relationship between our institutional mission and our location,” he said.

Rumors of a potential move, however vague, angered one prominent Miami collector who has donated several works to MOCA.

Rosa de la Cruz said she and husband Carlos were upset because in her mind, moving the museum would be akin to closing it — and merging with another museum would be the same as giving the collection away.

“I gave work to that museum,” de la Cruz said. “I didn’t give works to the Bass Museum.”

Although de la Cruz would not say where she heard the rumor, she said she was disappointed that no one from the board reached out to her directly.

“I think the collectors and the people that gave and the artists that gave work to that museum should have at least been informed and asked for advice,” she said. “It would have been a little more elegant, I think.”

Co-chairs of the museum’s board of trustees, Irma Braman and Ray Ellen Yarkin, declined to comment.

The rumors follow a period of change for the institution, which is partially funded by North Miami. Longtime director and chief curator Bonnie Clearwater announced her departure in July to take the same position at Nova Southeastern University’s Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale.

A year earlier, the museum suffered a blow to its plans for an expansion that would have tripled its space when voters in North Miami rejected a $15 million city bond issue to fund the project.

When Clearwater announced that she was leaving, she said the city and board were looking at all options and “being very creative.”

“The museum’s reputation is really not tied to the building,” she said at the time. “It’s where we built our reputation.”

Gartenfeld pointed to that comment in an interview Thursday. He said a robust exhibition program has already been announced through early 2015, and daily educational activities and regular public programs are continuing.

“The worry that MOCA will go away, that’s not something that’s going to happen,” he said.

The Art Newspaper’s story took city officials in North Miami by surprise.

“I cannot answer to rumors that they are leaving because I have not been formally informed,” Mayor Lucie Tondreau said Thursday.

Although city manager Stephen Johnson was slated to meet Friday with the museum’s board, that meeting was scheduled several weeks ago to discuss the appointment of a permanent executive director, city spokeswoman Pam Solomon said.

Tucked between city hall and the police department, MOCA is the centerpiece of downtown North Miami and the city’s emphasis on arts and culture; it had been allocated $982,000 in the city’s 2014 preliminary budget.

“Absolutely MOCA is an important part of our arts and culture,” said Solomon.

At the Bass Museum of Art, executive director Silvia Karman Cubiñá was not available to comment.

In an emailed statement, the president of the board of directors, George Lindemann, said in part: “The Bass Museum welcomes collaborations with institutions in Miami and from around the world....We are continually evaluating opportunities for these collaborations so as to strengthen our programming and widen our audiences.”

Reached by phone, he declined to talk about any arrangement with MOCA.

Gartenfeld also avoided specifics, saying: “I can’t comment on probabilities and things like that. It’s too much speculation.”

He said the museum already collaborates with other institutions in South Florida, highlighting the recently formed Miami Art Museums Alliance.

“A museum is an important cultural institution with a mission, and the board of trustees and I are seeking to fulfill the mission in the best way we can with a long view of what MOCA could mean to the community,” Gartenfeld said.