Miami-Dade County

A new museum of contemporary African art could be coming to Miami

Patrons view an installation titled Zero Hour by artist Hank Willis Thomas on display during the fourth annual Art of Transformation Exhibit in Opa-locka in 2015. Planners of a new museum featuring contemporary art of the African Diaspora hope to feature artists like Thomas and others in a facility in Northwest Miami-Dade.
Patrons view an installation titled Zero Hour by artist Hank Willis Thomas on display during the fourth annual Art of Transformation Exhibit in Opa-locka in 2015. Planners of a new museum featuring contemporary art of the African Diaspora hope to feature artists like Thomas and others in a facility in Northwest Miami-Dade. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Looking to add another perspective to the Miami art scene, a local foundation is picking up support for a new museum that would showcase art of the African diaspora.

The Miami-Dade North Arts and Humanities Foundation plans to establish the Miami Museum of Contemporary Art of the African Diaspora in Northwest Miami-Dade with hopes that it will provide a different experience amid an already packed slate of museums in South Florida.

“It would provide a unique platform to showcase the creative genius of artists of the diaspora. The continent of Africa has several hundred million people and there’s a huge art community in Africa that we don’t know about,” said Marilyn Holifield, one of the foundation’s directors and a partner in the Miami office of the Holland & Knight law firm.

The plans, which have been in the works since 2013, got a boost last month when the County Commission approved a $100,000 in county funds to the foundation. The Knight Foundation made a $29,000 grant, and the humanities foundation has also raised more than $65,000 through fundraising and private donations.

Plans have been in the works since 2013 to build a museum that would showcase art of the African diaspora.

The goal is to expose the community and particularly students to the art of contemporary African, African-American and Caribbean artists as well as Latin American countries in the diaspora.

“I feel that our community is in desperate need of additional exposure to the rich history, art and culture of the African Diaspora,” County Commissioner Barbara Jordan said in a statement. “So many of our youth need to know about the rich African heritage from which their families were derived.”

Michael Spring, Miami-Dade cultural affairs chief, said focusing solely on art from the African diaspora could provide a new spotlight for similar art that’s been featured in local museums.

“There’s plenty of art that could fill a museum like this and it would give the highest level of showcase to those artists. It would be mission driven,” Spring said.

He also said he he cautioned Holifield about how difficult it would be to begin a new museum. Spring noted that museum buildings are built for a very specific purpose, usually require unique designs and can cost millions of dollars, especially if a group is working without public support or the backing of a larger organization.

“Raising the money to actually design and build the buildings is typically the first hurdle and that’s a big job. Typically that doesn’t occur without some sort of public support,” Spring said.

Raising the money to actually design and build the buildings is typically the first hurdle and that’s a big job.

Michael Spring, Miami-Dade cultural affairs chief

Additional hurdles include assembling a staff to oversee design and construction and to run the museum when it’s completed and getting a board of directors in place to bolster the collection and raise funds.

He pointed to the $305 million Frost Science Museum project, which required an additional infusion of county money after falling short of the money needed to finish construction, as an example of an organized plan that ran into issues and oversights.

Despite those warnings, Spring said Holifield and the foundation have made the right moves.

The foundation raised money to retain the Paratus Group to plan the museum’s development. The Paratus Group served as a planning consultant on the development of the Perez Art Museum Miami, the expansion of the Kimbell Art Museum in Forth Worth, Texas, and the restoration of the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

The location for the proposed museum is still undetermined but the foundation is considering Miami Dade College’s North campus, at 11380 NW 27th Ave., and would prefer to place it in Northwest Miami-Dade County. The foundation has hosted community meetings in Opa-locka, Miami Gardens and at Miami-Dade North campus. The foundation has also worked with international design firms Perkins + Will and NLE Works to plan potential sites.

I feel that our community is in desperate need of additional exposure to the rich history, art and culture of the African Diaspora.

County Commissioner Barbara Jordan

“It’s been really gratifying that we’ve been able to go to the community and ask them to come and talk with us and engage in a conversation about the creation of a museum,” Holifield said.

Spring said it would be a smart move for the museum to partner with Miami-Dade College as the school could give the museum organic support for any educational programs.

“There’s the possibility for faculty interactions, student internships — all the things you’d want from an educational standpoint would be built right in,” Spring said.

The museum would join similar institutions like the African American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale and the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center in Miami.

The foundation plans to host additional community meetings but no official dates have been set. For more information email miamimocaad@gmail.com.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3

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