A furor has erupted in the Miami art community over renaming the Miami Art Museum (MAM), thanks to a $35 million cash and art pledge to the museum by a South Florida real estate developer who Time magazine has called “the Donald Trump of the tropics.”
MAM’s new name, the Jorge M. Perez Art Museum of Miami-Dade County, has drawn a wave of unexpected criticism from museum board members, past officers, and prominent patrons critical of the move, saying it will impede future donations.
“This is not a personal thing against Mr. Perez,” said Rosa de la Cruz, an art collector, in a Letter to the Editor in the Miami Herald she and her husband, Carols, wrote. “This is when a community puts up the money, you don’t change the name. If they want to change the name of the museum, there should be a referendum.”
The museum board approved the name change, 46-4, with one abstention. Aaron Podhurst, chairman of the museum’s board of trustees, noted, "I said, ‘Jorge you have to be commensurate with the Arsht gift and the Frost gift to the science museum,” according to the Miami Herald. “Nobody else stepped forward with that kind of money for the museum.”
In 2008, Miami-Dade’s publicly funded Carnival Center for the Performing Arts - named after the cruise line’s $20 million pledge - became the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts when Arsht, former chairwoman of TotalBank, gave a $30 million pledge.
In March, a $35 million pledge announcement by Patricia and Phillip Frost, former chairman and CEO of pharmaceutical giant IVAX, led to the naming of the Miami Science Museum’s new building after them.
Perez said his gift was conditional on a permanent renaming of the museum. “I want to have a legacy other than my family and my buildings that I’m very proud of,” he said, the New York Times reports.
Perez’s gift to the art museum includes $20 million in cash over a 10-year period and $15 million worth of art.
“Fundraising is, in its own way, a business, and you look at what the market will bear,” said Leslie Lenkowsky, philanthropic studies professor at Indiana University, the Herald reports.
Among those also opposed to the renaming is Mary Frank, past MAM president, who resigned from the museum board in protest. She, along with her husband, Howard, chief operating officer and vice chairman of Carnival Corp., took out a full page newspaper ad in opposition to the naming-rights move.
Frank said the advertisement resulted in nearly 300 e-mails of support. The couple had previously pledged $500,000 to the museum, but will not fulfill the remaining half.
Another trustee of the museum who submitted his resignation over the issue is Rubén A. Rodríguez. “Name a plaza or a wing or the building, but not the institution,” he said, according to the New York Times.
Rodríguez said his company, Carnival Cruise Lines, has already awarded $1.5 million of a $5 million endowment gift, but is debating whether to award the balance. “We feel we made a pledge to the Miami Art Museum,” he added. “Not to the Jorge Pérez Museum.”
Perez made much of his real estate fortunes during the 2003-2008 real estate boom, helping reshape the Miami skyline with towering luxury condominiums. Those real estate deals helped earn him the nickname The Condo King, the Herald reports.
After the housing bubble burst in 2008, Perez’s company, The Related Group, lost more than $1 billion, forcing him to restructure almost $2 billion in debt. Many of those massive high-rise buildings stood vacant, and public opinion saw developers in the city as conspirators in the real estate crisis due to their overbuilding and then dumping condos on speculators who were later unable to get a mortgage.
The museum’s announcement of Perez’s gift came at the height of Art Basel Miami Beach, South Florida’s preeminent annual art show and considered one of the most prestigious art shows in the Americas, according to its website. It focuses on more than 2,000 artists from the 20th and 21st centuries.
MAM’s collection and exhibitions focuses on international art from the 20th and 21st centuries, emphasizing Atlantic Rim cultures: the Americas, Europe and Africa. MAM, a collecting institution, was prior to 1996 called the Center for the FIne Arts, known strictly as an exhibiting organization.