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North Miami's MOCA Museum Reintroduces Itself

Daniel Bock
Miami Herald

North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art is recognized internationally in the art world.

It’s been called the “jewel of the city” and the anchor for a growing downtown district.

But during the past year, legal disputes and fighting between former board members and the city have left some questions about the future of the museum.

MOCA is embroiled in a public battle over who owns the 600-piece permanent art collection.

On one side is the museum’s former board of trustees, which has cut ties with the museum. For years, the trustees raised money and helped build the impressive collection.

On the other side is the City of North Miami, which owns the museum and partially funds its operations.

Each side says the artwork is theirs. The issue is currently in mediation.

The museum's current exhibit, "Third Space: Inventing the Possible,"  is a statement  to the community and all who have been watching the drama unfold in the past year, says Babacar M’Bow, MOCA’s new director.

On  MOCA’s interim website, the exhibit is described as “an end to unfounded rumors.”

Rumors that the museum is closing or that it won’t be as good as it was before.

Credit Suzanne Isa / Isa Design
Isa Design
Babacar M'Bow

“The museum is ready to move to a very bright future maintaining both its standard as the world has known it,” says M’Bow.

But some residents like Josie Gulliksen wonder if MOCA will maintain its reputation under the new leadership.

Gulliksen lives just three blocks from MOCA and she’s volunteered there since it opened in 1996.

"MOCA brought tremendous visibility to the city and for very good reasons," she says

For years the museum's former trustees wanted to expand, but when a $15 million referendum went to voters in 2012 it failed.

Without the backing of the community perhaps they didn’t feel supported after all the support they had shown all those years,” says Gulliksen.

A spokesperson for the former board declined to comment. The former trustees plan to open a new museum in Miami’s Design District.

Meanwhile, North Miami is on a mission to reintroduce the MOCA to South Florida.

Aleem Ghany, North Miami’s city manager, says after the board left the general belief was that MOCA would close.

“That is far from the truth,” he says. “MOCA is still here."

But it is a leaner MOCA. The museum’s staff is down from 33 to nine.

M’Bow says he is looking toward MOCA’s future even if there are still many unknowns.

He’s locked out of the official MOCA website, so he created a new site. The former board still has control over thousands of dollars in grant money for youth programming and Vanity Fair magazine pulled its sponsorship of the annual Art Basel kickoff they’ve co-hosted at MOCA for the last several years.

M’Bow says he is not deterred.

On one office wall at MOCA, there are dozens of handwritten notes with M’Bow’s ideas for the next exhibit. It’ll debut during Art Basel.

An African proverb says that before you appreciate happiness you have to lose it,” he says. “I’m very, very, very confident that better days are ahead. No doubt.”

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