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MOCA board to vote next month on city-appointed director

The board of the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami — which is working on a move out of the city that owns its building — met Monday during a period of escalating rancor between the institution and its municipal landlord.

One item for discussion amid reports of educational programs, show openings and membership updates: Whether to accept the city’s recent appointment of a new director, Babacar M’Bow.

Rather than taking a vote Monday night, board leaders said a committee would review M’Bow’s credentials and background and interview him before making a recommendation next month about whether he should be get the board’s approval.

North Miami city officials appointed M’Bow, managing editor of the Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora and founder of an art gallery in Little Haiti, last week. But the appointment needs the approval of the museum’s board to become official.

Last week, co-chair Irma Braman said in a statement that interim director and chief curator Alex Gartenfeld — who has served in an interim capacity since former executive director Bonnie Clearwater left last year — has the board’s “full support.”

“The city’s attempt to dismiss our interim director and nominate a new director is preposterous,” she said in the statement, calling North Miami’s move “just another unfortunate political stunt by the city in attempt to cover up for their continuing failures.”

The museum’s board sued the city earlier this month for breach of contract, arguing that North Miami had failed to maintain the building and grounds or provide adequate security, among other complaints.

At Monday’s meeting, which M’Bow and North Miami interim city manager Aleem Ghany briefly attended, there was little discussion about those issues. M’Bow and Ghany both spoke about the city’s desire to appoint a new board of trustees, given the current board’s discussions about possibly moving the collection to the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach.

“Since we are in litigation with the city, we have been instructed we can’t really discuss this at the meeting this evening,’ said Ray Ellen Yarkin, co-chair and president of the board.

After leaving the meeting, which was held at the offices of Ernst & Young in Miami, M’Bow praised the board for its role in elevating MOCA to an internationally respected home of cutting-edge collections and exhibitions.

But, he and Ghany said, the city was determined that its residents would still have an art museum — without specifying what that museum would include.

“Working people deserve art, too,” M’Bow said.

Meanwhile, inside the meeting, board members applauded Gartenfeld for his leadership during a rocky period.

“It’s a difficult situation, and he’s held it up and held us together beautifully,” Yarkin said. “We want him to stay.”

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