Miami Art Collection Crumbles

September 11, 2007 · Print This Article

Miami Art Collection Lost, Stolen or DestroyedMiami-Dade has spent three decades — and more than $33 million — building one of the largest and richest art collections in Florida, destined to enhance courthouses, libraries, transit stations, the airport and the seaport. Now many are missing, dying, destroyed or just in general disarry. Romare Bearden’s etching The Train [missing], George Tice’s photograph Petit’s Mobil Station [missing], Robert Rauschenberg’s lithograph Unit (Buffalo) [missing] and the same goes for dozens of other artworks that have gone missing from Miami-Dade’s Art in Public Places program.

• A county audit of the program is under way to determine, among other things, why dozens of artworks have been lost or stolen.

• Signature works by seminal artists have deteriorated, with no money and no plans to restore them, while others sit in storage, belying the notion of art in public places.

• At least 20 works that together cost more than $800,000 have been dropped from the collection inventory because they are either damaged or missing.

• Program administrators still rely on an inconsistent, incomplete inventory to track and manage the collection.

At the center of the chaos is the tax-supported program that is supposed to oversee these works. Funded through a 1973 ordinance that sets aside 1.5 percent of public-building construction costs to underwrite art. It received $5 million last year and is projected to receive $1.5 million this year.
Many supporters say the program has strayed from its beginnings as a collection intended to beautify community spaces and educate residents about the value of art.

”Disappearance and neglect was never a part of the vision of the program,” says Ruth Shack, a former county commissioner and member of the first Art in Public Places selection committee, established in 1973.

County officials say, in turn, that Art in Public Places has been hindered by inadequate funding, hurricanes, computer failures and insufficient staff — and they do not foresee improvements soon.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez has proposed cutting the program’s six-member staff to three and folding it into the Department of Cultural Affairs as a cost-saving measure.

”It needs general funds, which is not about to happen now,” says Ivan Rodriguez, director of Art in Public Places, who has overseen the program since December 2000 and expects to retire this year. “That will make all the difference in the world. And everything falls in line with that.”

Over the years, program administrators have lost track of more than 10 percent of the collection — at least 87 pieces. And although the missing art initially cost about $95,000 in total, comparable works are fetching much more in today’s exuberant art market.

Read more at the Miami Herald article by DANIEL CHANG

6 thoughts on “Miami Art Collection Crumbles”

  1. Public Art Advocate says:


    If you’re going to blog, then please get the facts straight. The program IS NOT funded by taxes, the ordinance does not allow for that. The program is a percent for art, which funds are derived from new building construction. This is specifically the problem with the maintenance issue, and as was noted in the article “General Fund” monies could help subsidize the “regular” maintenance of the collection.

  2. Christopher says:

    Public Art Advocate,

    If you have issues with the statement that the program is funded by taxes you might want to contact Daniel Chang of the Miami-Herald who originally reported it as a “tax-supported program”. Then contact Charles Saatchi of The Saatchi Gallery & USA Today for either repeating or validating his article. Also CBS 4, NBC 6 & Local 10 for reporting the same article via the Associated Press news wire post which went around the world. I am quite honored that you came here first though.

    Also as you stated and the Miami-Dade “art in public places” State website is quoted in agreement to an extent with you:

    “One of the first public art programs in the country, Miami-Dade Art in Public Places was established in 1973 with the passage of an ordinance allocating 1.5% of construction cost of new county buildings for the purchase or commission of artworks. Art in Public Places is overseen by a citizens’ Trust appointed by the Board of County Commissioners.”

    Being a % for art ordinance does not in my opinion (not being a tax lawyer here it might not stand for much) exclude it from being considered a publicly funded art program.

    Also shouldn’t the issue be more so the lack of oversight and organization and not the status of it’s funding? I would think your outrage would be best served in supporting that end?

    The “General Fund monies” approach could only hurt and alienate the public you want to be in the process cause all they will hear is “It is the public’s fault that we can not keep tabs on the art we have but if you gave us more money we could find a way not to lose it in storage”. John Q public living on the Tamiami Trail in Miami will want the director replaced and not more money added to the budget. If they are forced to make a choice I bet you dime over dollar that the decision will be to close it down and fold it into a existing department.

  3. JC says:

    Hi, I know that this is not the topic but Second Saturday gallery walk looks very interesting. I’ve found a very complete listing of openings and exhibits for Sat. October 13th @


  4. Public Art Advocate says:


    Yes, being by definition a “public art” endeavor it suggests that it’s a publicly funded program in some fashion, be it by taxes or not. The agency is, or rather was, a department within Miami-Dade County. Still, tagging on the “tax” message certainly is a precedent for misconception and was thrown in without full account of the facts–I don’t care who reported it. Ad valorem taxes are strictly prohibited as part of the ordinance and the program has never been supported through the county’s General Fund.

    Joe Public always gets “pieces” of information and ends up being the subject of much confusion. Incomplete reporting also discriminates against management that executed their duties to the best of their abilities, but were stimied by the incompetence of predecessors and the total lack of support by upper management.

    Ultimately, it is a signature program that has suffered and the Miami-Dade community that has been short-changed to accepting an extremely watered-down version of what was a model program to the nation. You get what you ask for, and Miami-Dade is so impoverished culturally that I’m afraid no one will be able to tell the difference. Meanwhile, let’s go ahead and promote those Britto shirts at MIA. It’s just what Miami-Dade needs and the masses want.

  5. Katherine says:

    Let’s see those MIA shirts by Britto—we need to wear them. Miami is a city with such virve –they are going to be HOT.

  6. Katherine says:

    By the way—how much are they?

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