Staff Reporter

gary-l.-moore--web-6.jpgFORT LAUDERDALE — Broward County officials have launched an investigation to determine how a fire alarm box came to be installed on an expensive piece of art at a library.

The Harambee Room
, a one-of-a kind exhibit located in the African-American Research Library & Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale, was defaced when electrical work was performed at the facility.

Urban artist Gary L. Moore created the mural depicting historical events in African-American history.

Exactly who caused the damage or when it was done was not immediately known.

Moore said no one informed him of damage done to his work.

“I had no idea and that was not there the last time I visited here,” said Moore, who was commissioned to create The Harambee Room in 2002.

Milton Jones, a developer who donated funds towards the library’s construction and creation of The Harambee Room, was upset.

“That’s just ridiculous. It’s just ludicrous,” Jones said. “If you have a contractor or an employee to go in to make repairs, you’re supposed to have someone watching everything they do.”

Jones and his wife Barbara donated $50,000 towards The Harambee Room. A bronze plaque outside the room’s entrance bears their names, dedicating the work to them.

“We have a vested interest in it and so does the entire community.  It was put there for the people to enjoy,” Jones said.

He was never contacted about the damage, he said.

The county agency that oversees Broward’s vast collection of art did not know how The Harambee Room came to be defaced, according to its director.

“The Cultural Division has just learned of the damage to the artwork,” Mary Becht said in response to an e-mail from South Florida Times seeking comment.  “Staff is researching the questions. The division will respond as soon as we can obtain the information.”

Tin Ly, the county’s public art and design consultant, who monitors the art that Broward owns, did not return repeated calls or reply to emails seeking comment.

“I should have been called about this,” Moore said. “He should have let me know.”

The focus of the dispute is a red-and-white electrical box measuring roughly 5 inches by 5 inches and consisting of a horn and strobe light. It was added to, or installed, in the room as part of a fire alarm warning system.  An opening was cut into one section of the art work to accommodate the installation, damaging the panels and canvas. The opening is a ragged cut that has left spaces around the device, exposing the bare wall on which the panels of the mural are mounted, allowing moisture to enter.

“It’s very tacky. It’s very shoddy and it’s an insult to the art piece because you create art to sort of elevate people to a whole different experience,” Moore said this week as he surveyed the damage done to his creation. “When you have this sort of shoddy craftsmanship, it’s very distracting. If it’s a county employee, I’m just so surprised at the level of the quality of their work.”

“Harambee” is Swahili for “Let's pull together.” The mural consists of colorful digital prints on canvas depicting people of African descent in transition from the Motherland to America. Moore estimates it cost about $210,000 to create because it was not included in the original design of the facility. The piece was commissioned by the county’s Public Art and Design Program.

The work also includes black-and-white photographs of historic figures from the Fort Lauderdale area, including Dr. James Franklin Sistrunk, the Rev. Ivory Mizell and Eula Johnson.

The panels line the walls of the circular room that reflects sounds like an echo chamber, with specially designed acoustics. The floor is fashioned from blue terrazzo in patterns of waves, with a yellow line to show the route slave ships took from West Africa through the Middle Passage en route to America.

County officials have yet to determine if the fire alarm was an existing warning device that was upgraded or a new installation. Further complicating the issue is confusion over who did the work and when it was performed.

Moore said he sent the county a maintenance proposal for the mural when he completed the work but it was never acted upon.

“They need to restore it, and restore it immediately,” Jones said.

“This looks like an exercise in stupidity not to have someone watching over the work done over there and keeping track of it,” said Jones, the benefactor. “You have other valuable works of art in this county and you have to wonder what has happened to those.  I wonder how long it will take them to let me know about the damage.”

Elgin Jones may be reached at


Photo Above:     Urban artist Gary L. Moore surveys damage done to The Harambee Room