Half the story has never been told. Those words framed one of the presentations in the first symposium on art and culture held at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami under the leadership of its new director Babacar M’bow.
Many know M’bow from his stellar work in organizing international programs, art exhibitions and other events which helped launch the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale and producing a range of other related programs in institutions in Broward County such as the recent Nova University Black History Month art exhibitions. Now he brings his international experience and organizational skills to North Miami at a critical point in its history.
At a forum on June 15, scholars from major institutions, in conjunction with the community, underscored the value of art and culture and the importance of cultural institutions in communities that may be seen by some as undeserving of having anything of value located in their neighborhoods.
The discussion also examined the intricate ways these issues play out in historical and transnational contexts of race, class, immigration and demographic shifts in neighborhoods.
Why is this significant?
The Board of Trustees of MOCA had indicated that the museum was leaving North Miami and also taking its patrimony (art and financial resources) to the Bass Museum in Miami Beach.
Once the city officials of North Miami discovered this undercover strategy to evacuate MOCA and leave it a shell, they launched a lawsuit to stop what they saw as an “art heist” and hired a new director who would represent their interests.
At present, the case is in judge-ordered mediation, with many
hoping that this largely white board which lives elsewhere than in North Miami would actually allow the institution to grow in a more community-focused direction.
Additionally, the problem with the board’s attempted move is that it is another example of robbing a diverse community of its resources, denying the children of that community access to a good institution and literally shifting a major art collection to a predominantly white community. Many community residents have indicated that they raised their children coming to MOCA on evenings and weekends.
The questions which guided the symposium titled “Re-/Claiming Art, Power, Ideas And Vision In An Ethnically Plural Community” and which are relevant to this and other similar situations were:
• Who produces and consumes art in ethnically plural communities?
• What happens to art when a community’s demographics shift?
• Do the people of that community still deserve access to their art?
• What role and responsibility do the residents play and have in the survival of their institutions?
• Is art only for the elite and those with access to capital resources?
• How does a museum’s vision to serve its community get activated?
• In what field of values does philanthropy become ownership?
• What role can artists and art institutions play in a globalized world community?
• How can artists and art institutions organize sociopolitical and cultural dis/order in systems of erasure or marginalization?
These questions are included here because they can be applied not only to MOCA but also to other situations in South Florida where the tendency is to take everything to South Beach or to miss the fact that there are several other cultural sites where one can access a range of cultural experiences.
We should all be invested in strategies that save MOCA and actually making it a stronger institution in North Miami and the South Florida area.
Carole Boyce Davies is professor of Africana Studies and English at Cornell University and director of the Florida Africana Studies Consortium.