MOCA Allegedly Reaches Agreement With North Miami: M'Bow Stays, Trustees to Leave With Artworks

The heated legal dispute between the board of trustees of North Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and the City of North Miami over who controls the museum's collection and whether it will be relocated from its current home to Miami Beach's Bass Museum may have finally come to an end.

A source with knowledge of the court-ordered mediation between the museum board and the city told New Times that an agreement was reached yesterday after 22 hours of deliberation extending over two days.

Speaking on condition of confidentiality, the source described the points allegedly agreed upon by MOCA board members and city officials. Among them is the confirmation of Babacar M'Bow as the museum director and the departure of 150 top works of art from MOCA's holdings along with its outgoing board of trustees.

See also: At MOCA North Miami, a Battle Over Race

Other points in the agreement, according to the source, include:

  • The artwork leaving the North Miami institution will be appraised by Sotheby's, and after a monetary value has been placed on the collection, both parties will pay half of that value to MOCA.
  • MOCA will officially remain the name of the North Miami museum.
  • A new board will be constituted to carry on the duty of the departing trustees.
  • Alex Gartenfeld, curator and interim director, will leave MOCA; Babacar M'Bow will fulfill the duties of museum director.

The agreement will be signed by the judge and both opposing parties within the next several weeks, the source reports.

See also: MOCA's High-Profile Donors May Reclaim Their Art From North Miami

The bad blood between museum honchos and city leaders began simmering in 2012 when taxpayers torpedoed a $15 million expansion bill in the cash-strapped working-class city.

It boiled over when MOCA's board filed a breach of contract suit against North Miami this past April and the quarrel between both parties turned into a cultural version of Tong warfare soon after that.

Since then, MOCA's board rejected Babacar M'Bow -- who was appointed by North Miami city officials as the museum's new director -- citing that M'Bow failed to comply with a background check even though he was vetted by North Miami and passed the city's drug and background checks.

After MOCA's trustees unceremoniously discarded M'Bow as a candidate, the museum board filed a motion in its lawsuit against the city the first week of June stating that art collectors who gave art to MOCA gifted those donations to the institution and not to North Miami. That filing was signed by auto tycoon Norman Braman and his wife, Irma Braman, who co-chairs MOCA's board.

Last month, MOCA suffered yet another blow to its credibility when the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation withdrew a $5 million grant endowed to the museum in 2007 in the wake of the acrimonious dispute.

As for the outgoing board's desire to merge with the Bass Museum of Art, it appears those plans have been dropped. New Times' source says members of the outgoing board have formed a new nonprofit they're calling "NOCI"; it remains unclear if that's an acronym and, if so, what it stands for. A Google search reveals only that noci is the Italian word for "walnut."

UPDATE: SquiresBenson, P.L., the law firm representing the City of North Miami in the dispute, contacted New Times with the following statement in response to our source's allegations:

The good news today is that, as a result of the Court-ordered Mediation, the parties have come together, and are diligently working to resolve the dispute. Everyone is sincerely looking forward to an amicable, mutually beneficial resolution; and looking forward to working jointly in the future.

Ms. [Olivia S.] Benson and Mr. [Gilbert K.] Squires, the attorneys who lead the Mediation team on behalf of the City of North Miami, indicate the terms of the settlement agreement as listed in the earlier blog do not reflect the parties' discussions. After consulting with counsel for the Plaintiff, they agreed to update New Times for everyone's benefit.

The Parties are earnestly working on the terms of an agreement, and will maintain the confidentiality of those discussions, and any agreement.

Representatives of SquiresBenson declined to elaborate on which of the terms of settlement described in this story its lawyers consider inaccurate.

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