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margulies responds

Post #399 • November 1, 2004, 6:13 AM • 10 Comments

Martin Z. Margulies responds to questions from regarding his recent advertisement in the New Times, which encourages everyone to vote No on Bond Question #8. I sent questions to the press liason at the Miami Art Museum, who has put them in front of MAM director Suzanne Delehanty and will try to get replies to me ASAP. Look for a special evening edition of if he succeeds. You claim in your advertisement that "$275 million of Bond Question #8 is slated for the construction of two private art museums." The facts indicate that Museum Park will consist of one art museum and one science museum, and that both museums will be public institutions. Do you want to clarify this?

Martin Z. Margulies: These are private organizations run by a private Board of Directors who should be raising money privately to run and build their private institutions. It is correct that there is one art museum and one science museum. Both are privately run and each are claiming four acres of public park land for concrete buildings and additional park land for a sculpture garden and other exhibits for a total of 16 acres out of 29 acres of public park land. Consistently throughout the country private museums are funded by privately raised money not by using tax payer money. If a museum wants a new building they go to their patron base and they raise the money through private donations. If they can't raise the money they don't build a museum or expand. The Guggenheim, Whitney and Chicago Art Institute are prime examples, all recently canceled or postponed expansion plans because they could not raise the money privately and these museums have enormous, world class collections and patrons. MAM has neither a collection or a patron base.

AB.N: You list a number of woes afflicting Miami, and suggest that the $275 million slated for Museum Park would be better spent on them. One of them is the fact, according to your ad, that 100,000 children do not have health insurance. We do not have socialized health care in this country (in fact, it only ever becomes increasingly privatized), so it seems that those children will continue to have no insurance even if Miamians vote No on Question #8. Why would having no museum and no insurance for those kids be preferable to having a museum and no insurance for those kids, since this is what the choice boils down to?

MZM:It is not an either-or situation; either we have museum buildings or we have health insurance for underprivileged children. It is a matter of priorities. The "woes afflicting Miami", as you put it are far more important than building trophy museum buildings, which in the case of MAM will be empty because they have NO art collection. We already have five art museums in Dade County and these museums already have collections. This has nothing to do with socialized health care. We have to take care of children in this community whether they have health insurance or not. They are our priority.

AB.N: You also list a lack of parkland, a deficit at Jackson Memorial Hospital, 29% of people living below the poverty line, and uncompensated police and firefighters. Question #2 (Construct And Improve Parks And Recreational Facilities) will go towards increasing parkland, Question #5 (Construct And Improve Emergency And Healthcare Facilities) is aimed squarely at Jackson, Questions #6 (Construct And Improve Public Service Outreach Facilities) and #7 (Construct And Improve Housing For The Elderly And Families) are intended for the poor, and Question #4 (Construct And Improve Public Safety Facilities) seems directed at police and firefighters. One item on your list remains - a need to shore up the infrastructure of the schools. No ballot questions directly address this issue, but the one that comes close ("To construct and improve libraries, cultural facilities, and Head Start learning centers for pre-school children to offer multicultural educational opportunities and activities") is the same Question #8 (Construct And Improve Cultural, Library, And Multicultural Educational Facilities) that you would like us to vote No on. With most of your issues being addressed to the tune of millions of dollars by the other referendums, what's the harm in building Museum Park, particularly if its ordinance will begin to take care of some educational needs as well?

MZM: It is unfortunate that with bond question #8 there are many worthy institutions that really do deserve funding such as Head Start. But the fact is the money that these deserving organizations will receive is minuscule compared to the $275 million the museums construction plan will receive. The wording of the bond question is deceptive because the word museum or park doesn't even appear. Voters are not told that park land will be given away. Why build anything in the last waterfront park in this community? The city of New York turned down the Metropolitan Museum of art when they tried to build an addition in adjacent Central Park and the Museum had raised all the money for construction privately. Giving away open park land to build an empty art museum with public tax dollars is absurd.

AB.N: To what degree is your opposition to Museum Park prompted by animosity towards MAM director Suzanne Delehanty, MAM's board, or staff?

MZM: I have absolutely nothing but respect for Suzanne Delehanty. I have known her for many years. She has a fine reputation in the art world as a true professional. Over the years I have lent works of art from my collection to MAM and have hosted artists and curators in my home. Approximately a year and a half ago when we organized an open forum to discuss the proposed museum plan, Suzanne accepted our invitation to appear on a panel to present ideas to the community. Members of her board, namely Susana Ibargüen and Rose Ellen Green, sent a disturbing letter withdrawing Suzanne's participation. The letter made personal attacks on my integrity and was distributed behind the scenes to many people. The board even went as far as to claim that a new museum building for MAM was going to revitalize Overtown and by questioning the project I was hindering the revitalization of an underprivileged community. The board couldn't stand up to the challenging questions, such as why build a new building if you already have one and you don't have any art, so they forced Suzanne to step down and withdraw from openly, publicly discussing the issue with the art community here. I feel sorry for Suzanne because what makes the art world interesting is the challenge of different opinions and above all to speak upfront and openly. As far as their staff, I know Peter Boswell who I have the greatest respect for. As far as the board, well, four of the top 200 art collectors in the world live in Miami and none of them are on the board. That should tell you something.



Phil Isteen

November 2, 2004, 2:49 AM

Mr. Margulies deserves a great deal of credit for his thorogh & compelling responses.
Nevertheless, I will vote FOR the bond issue. All of them for that matter.

City Manager George Burgess claimed yesterday that homeowners won't see a tax rate increase since the last decade of progress bonds are about to be paid off.

He further clarified that the bonds represent about 50 cents per week tax increase to the AVERAGE homeowner, compared to all the bonds failing to pass. (Cetainly this is much, much more to Mr. Margulies and anyone who has substantial real estate, esp. commercial holdings)

Burgess also claimed that the Bicentennial Park [Museum] plan(s) were not done deals - and that is why it was not specified in the ballot language. But the money will be there if and when the details are worked out....oh, and by the way, if there is anyone out there that enjoys Bicentennial 'Park' lets here from you. (Maybe you just have to get past the human urine smell at the entrance...)

I'm willing to take the risk. VOTE, and let your opinion be counted!



November 2, 2004, 3:53 AM

If what Phil Isteen reports is correct and actually means what it appears to mean as stated, it is certainly significant information. It would have been far more fitting, however, if the same information had come from MAM in response to Artblog's request for clarification. The possibility that PI may be connected to MAM has occurred to me, but if that's the case, this is clearly not the way for such an organization to operate.

I am certainly happy to hear that the Museum Park plan is not a done deal as proposed, but that is not what I recall seeing in print some time back from a MAM staff person or prominent supporter, who pretty much boasted something to the effect of "we got approval and it's in the bag." Of course, that could have been PR-type bluffing, but how can I be sure?

This whole issue, for me, is not about whether or not Miami should get a major new museum facility; it's about stewardship of the huge amount of money involved. In other words, it's about whether or not the current MAM organization deserves such a tremendous vote of confidence and such enormous trust. That's something each voter has to decide individually, and it should be decided based on MAM's track record, not promises or PR. I'm not impressed by that track record, but obviously others feel differently or have a different perspective on the issue. VOTE.



November 2, 2004, 6:39 AM

Interesting! Phil Isteen (not a regular artblogger under pseudonym based on the grammar . . . maybe someone associated with the Museum or government?) raises some interesting points. Let's play with some numbers:

The population of miami-dade is 2.346 million. The total of all bond issues is 2.9 billion (i'll allow myself a Barryesque "yikes" now), of which 554 million is for bond #8. It might be too simplistic to say that in the long run it'll end up distributed more or less evenly (my landlord might pay more in property taxes but bet your ass eventually my rent will go up), let's go with it for the sake of argument. So if all the bonds pass, we're each kicking in $874 bucks, of which $165 is for bond #8.

It sounds like a bargain to me, though the libertarian in me points out that I'm not voting for a museum, i'm voting to force someone (at gunpoint, if need be) to pay for a museum. It's tough. I'm going to be up awhile, because I want to do some more reading before I make up my mind.


Phil Isteen

November 2, 2004, 6:56 AM

Jack, you can bet your Birkenstocks that I do not work for or represent the MAM in any way. I think they need room for improvement - which is why I am voting for the bond.
Maybe some oher entity will rise from Wynwood & wrest the funds away from MAM;
some entity with a better 'track record'...?

And lest you think I have some connection to George Burgess or the County, I saw him interviewed Sunday on the TV by WFOR/CBS's Elliot Rodriguez (no I don't work for WFOR). It was a good interview & Burgess came across very well. It may be that the Bicentennial Park site IS 'in the bag' but at the same time is 'not a done deal' until the money is secured and some kind of study can be undertaken...sometimes the truth comes folded a map.

I travel & I visit museums. I spend money in and around them. If I were a visitor to Miami Beach, (why would I visit Miami?) I'd head over the bridge to a waterfront PARK AND MUSEUM complex that would be like no other. No doubt about it. The current location may be around the corner, but far far from what this new site could be...


Phil Isteen

November 2, 2004, 7:18 AM

Alesh - excuse my grammar - I do post here regularly, though its been awhile.
I am but Phil Isteen.

Your math is about right, but these bonds, much like a mortgage, are paid over over time with tax revenue (40 years I believe). So your thought process behind the $874 is not off, but divide it by 40 AND compound INTEREST....

And just to reiterate: I do not work for, or represent, the MAM or any local, state, or federal goventment entity of any kind...I just watch TV on Sunday morning.

And to bring up another point while I'm still awake: Margulies mentioned that "four of the top 200 art collectors in the world live in Miami and none of them are on the board. That should tell you something." What SHOULD that tell me?

Does it tell me the tax advantages of housing my collection myself, rather than turning it over to a silly museum, is far more advantageous?



November 2, 2004, 7:19 AM

At (I don't know how to do the hotlinks!)

the county lists all the ballot questions and links to specific project lists for each one. Number 8 has 61different items associated with it, though the art museum ($100 million) and science museum ($175 million) are by far the largest ones. There is also money for libraries ($1.7 million to the main branch, for which we get new bathrooms and public access to the Wolfson Media Archives (which I hear are pretty awesome). $50 million goes to Viscaya. Most of the rest of it is for Libraries and Cultural museums and indeterminate stuff.

It's fun, but pointless, to pick and choose what's worthy from the list. I agree with Jack that we're giving lots of money to people who don't have a good record of fiscal responsibility. But I don't think it's the Museum - I think most of the expenditure will be done by the county, with the museum trying to keep them from making horrible mistakes (like they did with the MAM's current building). I think the MAM is up to the task of running a larger building - while I like their exhibitions, I think more space would equal more time for classical / more widely accepted art, which I suspect would translate to more exhibitions that Jack and Franklin would find agreeable (and which I, too, would welcome).

I want the museums, but I'm going to play a game with myself - I'm going to vote "NO" on at least one ballot question. If I can't find another expendable one between now and tomorrow morning, it's goodbye prop eight.



November 2, 2004, 7:24 AM

FWIW, I make my recommendation on #8 bright and early tomorrow morning. Check in.


that guy in the back row

November 2, 2004, 9:17 AM

alesh: I'm not sure if russian roulette is the best way to vote buddy. I agree with our good friend philistine, Mr. Margulies would rather spend his dough on his collection, helping us out directly by buying our art, than pay more taxes on his property. Now if he were a smart collector he start ditching some of his photographs while the market can still hold them. When the bottom falls out of the digital photo market there are going to be a lot of collectors caught with their pants around their ankles, Margulies strikes me as the type who knows when to sell. Nows the time to start cashing in our chips.



November 2, 2004, 5:53 PM

martin, what's you beef? are going to provide land for new museum funded by private monies? are you really pretending to concern yourself with the poor, the uninsured, the young kids who yearn for art and architecture(though, they may not know it)? please step aside, buy yourself another yatch or a piece of real estate and leave the cultural fulfilment of this town to others.
OR actively engage in turning the tides, make Miami anew--culturally, architecturally, artictically.
BE a Medici, like all you uber-rich collector-types really wants to be. and not a pansy art-world-political-critic.

And franklin, did you ask follow-up questions? his answers stink!


Tim in London

November 11, 2004, 3:36 PM

'gnu' is seriously uninformed about 'uber rich collector' Martin Margulies. He is one of the few collectors that DOES help people less fortunate than himself, by funding substantial projects for the underpriveleged in Miami. So, I believe he is amply qualified to comment on the wasting of public money on funding a private museum at the expense of social spending.
ou may also like to note that he chose to give his sculpture collection to FIU rather than some 'prestigious' campus elswhere. Get your facts right before you start blabbing matey!!!



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