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the performing art center and the expand-o-mam

Post #306 • June 24, 2004, 7:18 AM • 18 Comments

Somebody - anybody - please explain to me how anyone is going to keep this debacle from repeating should the Museum Park (hereafter referred to as the Expand-o-MAM) come to pass. (Holy cow - the Miami Art Museum finally fixed up that dirt-sucking website! Nice job, people! Now, can we talk? Also, your navbar is drifting leftwards, at least in Safari.) Fred Tasker for the Miami Herald: "Outside help may be brought in to finish PAC: After recommending a new project manager for the PAC, the Miami-Dade manager took a beating from commissioners angered by delays and cost overruns."

Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess introduced to county commissioners Tuesday his candidate for the hot-seat job of finishing the Performing Arts Center -- which is $67 million over budget and 20 months behind schedule. He's Ronald M. Austin, a principal with a construction firm that completed two performing arts centers in Ohio with Cesar Pelli -- the renowned architect who also designed Miami's PAC -- on time and within budget.

At the meeting, commissioners spent three hours scolding Burgess and several past county managers for letting the project get so out of hand -- then gave him grudging approval to formally submit his program for completing the center for a July 13 commission vote. Testy commissioners were clearly glancing over their shoulders at testier voters.

"We're going to be blamed, Mr. Manager," said Commissioner Javier Souto. "You people better get your house in order."

"I refuse to admit we were asleep at the switch," said Commissioner Jimmy Morales. "We relied on our professionals. Obviously, they were wrong."

Um, yeah. $67 million worth of wrong. I'm thinking, asleep or not, something like $10 million would be enough of a red flag for the commissioners to question their reliance. But wait, there's more:

Austin's salary, if commissioners go along with his hiring, will be negotiated. Burgess last week spoke of the position as $175,000 to $225,000 a year. Austin would replace the county's current PAC manager, Gail Thompson, who makes $172,000 a year and will take on administrative duties at the PAC.
Burgess and Austin briefed commissioners on a plan Burgess made public last week. It would settle up to $89 million in possible claims from the center's builder and $20 million from its architect at less than 50 cents on the dollar, bring in new management and a professional consulting firm, create a $10 million contingency fund and complete the center by May 31, 2006.
PAC Trust President Michael Hardy told the commissioners that, beyond the $67 million in overruns, the PAC will need $17.4 million in fixtures, furnishings, security systems, phones, computers and other equipment (though he said $7.9 million of it can be deferred) and $10 million in pre-opening operating costs.

It's like nobody down here has ever built a building before. What's the problem?

Rolle [editor's note: Who?], speaking of Austin's new job of getting the architect and builder to work together -- a major factor in the delays and higher costs -- [said]: "This is going to be like two porcupines making love."

Oh. The architect and builder weren't working together. Well, I guess that would be a problem. (Porcupines are able to copulate without wounding each other because the parts of the animals that come into contact do not have quills. Please alert the offices of Cesar Pelli and whoever that builder is.)

Consider Museum Park; it toils, also it spins. How much is it going to cost? It's a big gosh-darned mystery!

Phase one of MAM's new sculpture park ... will include galleries for MAM's permanent collection, international in scope with an emphasis on the Western Hemisphere, as well as galleries for special exhibitions, an educational complex with space for hands-on workshops for children, caf bookstore, and other amenities. ... Design, construction, furniture, and fixtures of this phase are estimated at $87 million based on prevailing national standards. This is one component. Other cost considerations are:
  • Landscaping and art acquisitions for MAM's four-acre public sculpture park
  • Planning and building up MAM's current operations to support the museum's growth and the capital campaign
  • Creating an endowment fund to sustain MAM's future annual operations

The real number has never been pinned down. Celeste Fraser Delgado at the Miami New Times tried to find out for a piece she wrote on the Expand-o-MAM last year, and was rebuffed:

"Unfortunately a lot of those numbers are moving targets," admits the chairwoman of the Miami Museum of Science board, Louise Valdes-Fauli. [The Museum of Science is part of the Museum Park project.] With her perky sorority bob and serious business suit, Valdes-Fauli efficiently ticks off the costs that need to be covered. She gets a little ticked off herself when pressed for more specifics. "We have over a 50-year history," she snaps. "We are not a new museum starting up a huge building. We have seen economic cycles. We've experienced them."

I want a big-ol' art museum down here, really I do. However:

  • The PAC's overruns nearly equal (or exceed, depending on how you look at it) the total price tag on the known costs of the Expand-o-MAM.
  • The major cause of the overruns was that our civic leaders could not get the architect and the builder to work together.
  • The Expand-o-MAM is a public project of similar scope.
  • The unknown and unstated costs of the Expand-o-MAM could be anything.

So before I get on board and start cheering for the Expand-o-MAM, I want reasonable estimates for those "other cost considerations" instead of mystery meat, I want a realistic assessment of where that money is going to come from, and I want to know what protections are going to be put in place so that hissy fits between our service providers don't transmogrify into a giant toilet for money.



Some Thoughts

June 24, 2004, 3:52 PM

Okay, so I've asked the same questions, and this is what I've been told thus far:

Performing art centers in general have a history of running into all sorts of problems given the complexity involved in their construction. Supposedly (and this is what i've been TOLD, not what I KNOW) performing art center projects all over the country have faced similiar setbacks in both construction and budget issues. It's just that when such things happen in places like, say, New York, the news-worthiness of these problems gets drowned among the variety of other topics that hit the headlines. It's also understood as 'business as usual.'

Museum projects, on the other hand, are generally much less complex undertakings and have a much, much better track record of coming in underbudget and on time. Not to say that a tremendous amount of smart planning is not desparately needed, but that, according to some, comparing the new Museum Park with the Performing Arts Center evokes the old 'apples and oranges' argument.



June 24, 2004, 4:25 PM

As an artist, one not involved in municipal matters like building projects, I find this no more interesting than the usual boondoggle/graft/official-per-week indictment (which I suppose will be next) so common in the Miami news. MAM is a latecomer art museum, hardly a museum, really, because its permanent collection is minimal and there is not much hope of making it much better when even bad and minor art goes for millions. Their exhibitions - what I have seen of them - have been uninspired and occasionally dreadful. When this thing gets done it will be yet another cultural implant, perhaps contributing to the general public good, but with almost nothing to do with what artists are thinking, arguing and worrying about every day. I am not saying it is unimportant or unworthy of attention, just not that interesting for artists, and having less to do with art altogether than it may seem.


nobody special

June 24, 2004, 4:26 PM

Thank you Franklin for saying all of those things about the performing arts center and the musuem complex that the rest of us out here are dizzy trying to comprehend. There are no easy answers but saying that yes we are watching and thinking about what is being done on that PAC project in the emphatic and clear-thinking way that you did took some BALLS!



June 24, 2004, 7:43 PM

ST, those are comforting thoughts, if they're true. That said, $67 million is an awfully big boo boo, considering it's my money and maybe yours too. Also, museums are prone to the same money and management issues as these performing arts centers; if this is business as usual, then let's have business as unusual for once.

Oldpro: This gives me the opportunity to announce my new website:, where we can parse these issues without disturbing the regular readership at Seriously, Oldpro, as an artist, the outcome of this could easily end up affecting your life.

NS: It's probably just lack of propriety, but thank you.



June 24, 2004, 8:07 PM

Really? Affect my life? Should I be fearful or happy?



June 24, 2004, 9:07 PM

I guess either's an option, but consider a best-case scenario: bigger museum = more curators, more shows, and more space for them = more curatorial diversity = a bigger chance that you and I will get to show our work there.



June 24, 2004, 10:27 PM

Ah! That's what I like: faultless logic, logic that says that the bigger the museum the more likely that our art will be shown there. Unfortunately what gets shown has something to do with fashion and trends, and, pessimist that I've become, I have a sneaky suspicion there is enough of that waiting at the starting gate to fill a dozen new museums.



June 25, 2004, 12:37 AM

A little strong to call it logic - think of it as a possibility. Crabby flakes for breakfast, Oldpro?

More people seeing art is good, even if it's art I don't like. Those people are in on the conversation. As an arts writer, I can reach them. It's the people who aren't looking at or thinking about art who are the problem. A big-ol' museum could move a lot of folks from the latter category into the former. That's why I want it to be done well.



June 25, 2004, 1:21 AM

Yup. Crabby flakes every morning. Good for the digestion. Helps one from becoming full of you-know-what.

I don't think more people seeing art is good. More people seeing good art is more like it. Art is already too popular. The people who are not seeing the art are not the problem. How could they be? The problem is the people involved with art who have no idea what to do with it.


More Thoughts

June 25, 2004, 4:30 PM

Art is too popular? Are you serious? You really think there is a sufficient amount of people in this town getting out and seeing art?

I highly doubt that here in Miami its identified, is it not, as one of the poorest cities in the United States? that the majority of people have frequent access to art and culture. And those that do attend art events, I'm afraid, aren't encouraged to use it to enrich their lives so much as a means of enriching their pocketbook.

Art-related events in this city relate to a very specific crowd of people, so even when they are affordable the ambience is such that it would make most people feel out of place and uncomfortable. I think thats really sad.

Growing up as I did, on a welfare program and isolated for the most part from the resources that the middle class-plus enjoys, I found the most meaningful experiences in my life to be artful ones. No, not attending gallery openings and cocktail parties or expensive art workshops, but having the opportunity to use that rare field trip to an art museum as a way to see life in a poetic way through a work of art. That vision that one develops by interacting with art allows one to see everyday experiences as something a little more meaningful. Thats not a minor thing.

I realize that I define art very broadly. I dont see this as a problem, however.

Allowing art to be something that is more expansive than its market allows more people to have the kind of poetic experiences that they can identify with on an individual basis. These experiences inform the kind of creative thinking that makes really good art-making possible.

Different art will speak to different people, and I think the problem right now is a lack of genuine diversity. I wouldnt say art is too popular I might say instead that it is too trendy but it sure isnt a part of peoples everyday lives in a way that would diffuse the materialism and consumerism that really is corrupting this town.



June 25, 2004, 5:20 PM

Oh, yes, completely serious. Art is a specialty. It is not for everyone. Art is, if you will, for an "elite". I use that word deliberately because it will create an automatic negative reaction and will be immediately misunderstood. How non-PC can I get? But if art is elitist by nature (as is any specialty, brain surgery or plumbing, for example) it is denied to no one, and should be denied to no one. Please note the difference.

By your second paragraph you are already conflating popularity with availability. There's a difference there, too. Of course art should be available, as available as possible. Your experience, as you have related it, is eloquent testimony to this. Having "the kind of poetic experiences that they can identify with on an individual basis" is exactly what art is there for. Making art available for this purpose is one of the blessings and obligations of a free society. I wish there was some way to make it more available. God knows, there is very little of any merit to be seen in this huge metropolis of ours.

Lack of diversity is a problem, but it is not the primary problem. The primary problem is that art has become seen much less as a "poetic experience" for people such as yourself (who are the "elite" I refer to, uncomfortable as that may make you) and much more a victim of the " materialism and consumerism" you deplore in your note. These are mighty forces, and art is a precious and fragile resource. That's why I think a blog like this may be the only way to get the art-loving "elite" a more powerful voice and bring some clear thinking into this enterprise.



June 25, 2004, 6:10 PM

What you say in this last post makes good sense. Art not being something that could and should be for everyone is hard thing for an idealist me to swallow, but it does give me a lot of constructive ideas to think about.

What you say in this last post, however, confuses me when placed in the context of your previous posts. I guess Im not following your logic here, old pro. Art should be available, but more people should not be seeing it. you have to be born, then, with this innate ability to know and understand art, and THEN you can be admitted into this elite art world club? People can't become knowledgeable about art without exposure -- you seem to agree with this -- and you lament the fact that more people aren't knowledgable about what good art is. So it would seem you would support more people getting exposure to art, at least as a stepping stone to what you would like to see happen...

Also, you seem to say that we dont need more art, we need more good art (and who can argue against more good art!). However, people argue all the time about what qualifies as good. I get the impression that you think art should be limited to only that YOU would qualify as good, and everything that falls outside your standards has no constructive place in art dialogue. That is, at least, how you come across in posts. You would need to be an unquestionable authority on what is and is not good in order to validate that claim, and while you are a highly reputable expert on such matters, you also recognize the importance of ones personal experience with a work of art and being as valid to that person as your own experiences are for you, implying the necessity of a forum where ALL authority especially that which is often taken for granted as incontestable can be questioned.

So it's just that I simply see a lot of contradictions in what you say, and that is likely due to my own inability to grasp your perspective clearly. It would help if you could elaborate on some suggestions you have regarding how you think things should be done. If a new museum is a bad idea, then give me a good idea. Please.



June 25, 2004, 8:08 PM

Art IS for everyone. It is out there, available for everyone. As many people as want to see it should see it. These are just facts that conform to realities. I never said more or less people should be seeing it or not seeing it, nor that a new museum is a "bad idea", just that as it is conceived and operated I think it will have very little to do with the direct relationship and discourse about art such as that which we are having right now. If you have no taste for art and get nothing from it it is best not to bother. Same goes for music, poetry, spaghetti with clam sauce or sunbathing.

My problem is that all kinds of people get in on art who get nothing from it and have no intimate feeling for it but, because of the huge prestige & money art comes in company with, get involved with art and get in the way of that personal relationship with art that I think we both agree is the basic reason we have it. Yes, I wish they would all just go away. I don't want to have anything to do with them.

Sure I am opinionated, but even if I did think I was some kind of "ultimate authority" it would not matter. I care nothing for "highly reputable experts" - they are wrong more often than not. As you say, all authority can and should be open to question. And also as you said, people argue all the time about what is good, and people will continue to do so. That's fine with me. I'd like to see more of it, and I would like to see it on a higher level of discourse, much more open and free and with much more direct engagement from people like yourself. I think a blog like this may be the only place to get it and it is why decided to write for it. So what's a good idea? The blog, I hope.


I agree

June 25, 2004, 8:44 PM

My problem is that all kinds of people get in on art who get nothing from it and have no intimate feeling for it but, because of the huge prestige & money art comes in company with, get involved with art and get in the way of that personal relationship with art that I think we both agree is the basic reason we have it.

I completely agree with you on that. I also think that the people who get involved with art for reasons of prestige and money likewise discourage some people who, like you and me, would get a lot out of looking at art for other reasons. This art crowd makes art feel very inaccessible for most people. Even if they could just as easily get out of their house and into a gallery if they so chose, why would they if they are only going to experience a suffocating environment full of high-society posturing that has little to do with art?

So while I think that blogging is an EXCELLENT way to promote art discourse in this town, I would also love to see institutions out there that champion art education for people from all backgrounds. Such institutions can support venues that attract a greater variety of people with non-economical aims out to see local art.



June 25, 2004, 9:52 PM

Museums do what they can to bring art to people and "educate", but the effort has its own built-in limitations. The basic difficulty with art is that, unlike music or literatiure, it cannot be effectively reproduced. The best "education" is exposure, and museums are stuffed to the gills with art in storage which they do not have the space to show. Blogging won't help this problem much, but at least it may get us talking about it.



June 25, 2004, 10:09 PM

I respectfully suggest to "Some thoughts/More thoughts/Confused/I agree" that you get a consistent handle, so that your discourse can be better followed and engaged. Whoever you are, your voice is welcome.

I don't believe a serious art lover can be made unless s/he is also born. There has to be an innate aptitude for art, which needs to be developed by exposure, experience and learning, but it cannot be acquired if it is not there. Everyone does not have such aptitude, hence the concept of an "elite." You yourself, given your less-than-favorable socioeconomic background, are an example of what I'm talking about. If you had not been born with the requisite aptitude, you would not have gravitated toward art. Of course you had to be exposed to art for the aptitude to blossom and bear fruit, but no amount of exposure would have made you what you are if the seed had not been in place already.

I am another such example. I grew up in a tiny rural town where, for all practical purposes, art did not exist. Nobody thought about it. It was not part of people's lives. Neither my family nor schooling, let alone society, gave me any encouragement in that direction. Until I was 11, I had no such concept as "Art." And then, by a twist of fate, I wound up one day in the Prado Museum in Madrid, which to me might as well have been Mars. It was like, "What the hell IS all this stuff?" But something happened. The seed, which had lain dormant and unwatered, began to germinate. I still had no external encouragement, but I no longer needed it because I'd awakened. I encouraged myself, or art did, once I'd discovered it. I went after it, pursued it, learned about it on my own, made it MINE. That's how it works for those who really connect with art.

I expect Oldpro, as his name implies, will understand what I'm saying. You may be younger and more idealistic, which is fine, but be realistic as well. Don't buy into the notion that if a big enough museum is built, everyone will magically become a real art lover. It doesn't work that way.


Last Post

June 25, 2004, 10:44 PM

Thanks, Jack. This is just a rare moment in time when I have the opportunity to post (I dont frequently have internet access), and I wasnt sure how long this luxury would last, and I wasnt planning on posting this much. and so there you have it no regular name

Im not saying that a bigger museum is necessarily better not at all. I believe that such institutions have the potential to enact really great things, but they need to act on that potential and utilize it well. I see museums and other educational institutions like cultural centers and schools as extremely vital to the growth and nurturance of an art community.

I also believe that not everyone innately gravitates towards art, and thats completely acceptable. That doesnt mean to me, however, that everyone cant benefit from exposure to art, whether or not they have an immediate inclination toward it.

For instance, I personally feel somewhat removed from music its very hard for me to understand and talk about it, and definitely do not have an ear for it. Its completely mysterious to me. My life, however, has been enriched by exposure to it, even if I cant appreciate it or discuss it they way music aficionados can.

I dont think that the current state of affairs in the art world here provides a welcoming enough community for some people who do gravitate toward art but are not a part of the exclusive social milieu to feel as though they have a voice. I feel in many ways I was extremely lucky to have the exposure to art that I did, however limited it was. I could have very easily been born somewhere where such exposure was not at all accessible. Or I could have also been raised in a location where I had earlier and better exposure to art and thus be able to discuss art in a more sophisticated way than I am able to now.

And so I simply support ways to make the current art scene more welcoming to a broader audience, so that the people who could make valuable contributions to the art world can be better equipped with the knowledge and the space to do so. Also, if people who arent artistically inclined learn a thing or two, art can become a more relevant part of our culture, giving the rest of us more freedom to interact with art in a more substantial way. If a new museum can help these aims, then I support it. But I definitely do not see museums as the end-all of art outreach, not at all they are simply one vehicle that can help actualize it. Thats all.



June 25, 2004, 11:39 PM

Well, Last Post, whoever you are, I hope you get further internet access and get back to the blog sometime.



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