When the new Miami Art Museum opens in 2013, it will also have a different name: The Jorge M. Perez Art Museum of Miami-Dade County.
Perez, chairman and CEO of the Related Group, whose condominium developments have helped reshape the Miami skyline, has pledged $35 million to the museum, including $20 million in cash and $15 million in art from his personal collection.
Thomas Collins, the museum’s director, said the gift makes it possible to construct the new 200,000-square-foot museum by award-winning architects Herzog de Meuron without going into debt.
Not everyone has welcomed the decision: Three members of the museum board have resigned in protest and one took out a full-page newspaper ad to oppose it.
“Let’s be realistic,” Mary Frank, former president of the Miami Art Museum told The Miami Herald. “They sold the name of the museum.”
The renaming and acceptance of the gift were approved in a vote of 30 to 4, Collins said. He added that the board’s capital campaign committee had previously agreed upon a donation pyramid, which included naming privileges for the top-level benefactor.
So what impact, if any, will the renaming of the museum have?
The Miami Art Museum won’t be the first to carry the name of an important benefactor, though it does appear to be one of the largest public art museums to carry a donor’s name. Naming after donors tends to be more common at university galleries. Usually when an art museum takes the name of a donor, it’s because nearly all of the permanent collection belongs to the donor, said Rebecca Tekula, director of the Helene and Grant Wilson Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Pace University.
Perez’s collection includes works by Wildredo Lam and Roberto Matta, though it’s unclear exactly which pieces will be selected for display. In a press release, the museum said the artwork shows “the institution’s long-term engagement with art from across Central and South America.”
Tekula said the donation is encouraging at a time when the arts have been hard hit by the economic downturn, though she and others cautioned that artwork valued at $15 million today may not be worth that in the future.
“$15 million doesn’t always get you that far,” Tekula said.
Kym Rice, director of the museum studies program at George Washington University, noted that institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago were founded by philanthropists more than 100 years ago and don’t carry their names.
“It is something that is definitely a new thing in recent museum history,” Rice said.
And it has been especially prominent in Miami, where several arts and educational institutions have recently been renamed after philanthropists. Adrienne Arsht’s $30 million gift in 2008 resulted in her name being attached to the county’s performing arts center. Likewise, the Miami Science Museum will be renamed the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science when its new building opens in 2014 after their $35 million gift.
“Miami seems to have an unusual recent history of naming every cultural institution in sight with the people who have come up with the money,” said David Sokol, director of museum studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Sokol said that naming a museum after a specific person can also detract from encouraging others to make financial contributions.
“There will be a significant segment of the public that will say, ‘Hey, this person’s name is on it, I’m not going to be a big financial supporter, let them do it,’” he said.
Collins said the name change essentially has no impact.
“I would say in terms of our mission, and in terms of our service to community, there is absolutely no impact of the name change,” Collins said.
He pointed to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the de Young Museum in San Francisco as to other major metropolitan museums that carry benefactor names. The Walker Center is named after lumber baron Thomas Barlow Walker, who created an art gallery out of his house which led to the establishment of the museum in 1927. The de Young is named after Michael H. de Young, who was chair of the exposition organizing committee and co-founder of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Collins said there have been three common motives for naming museums throughout history: After someone who builds and donates a collection; someone who contributes substantial resources, not necessarily financial; or after prominent citizens.
“All three of those categories apply to Jorge Perez,” Collins said.
Miami is currently the only large metropolitan area in the United States that doesn’t have a major art museum. The museum is slated to open to the public in 2013 and will be the centerpiece of a new 29-acre Museum Park overlooking Biscayne Bay.
Perez declined an interview request by The Associated Press on Friday, but in a statement said the museum’s commitment to assembling a leading contemporary art collection “reflects my own desire for Miami to continue to grow as an international cultural destination.”
Miami Art Museum: http://www.miamiartmuseum.org/