Miami-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.