“I would deny that the principal value of works of art is a private, transcendental, liminal experience,” he scolds. Then, taking in my surprised reaction, as if he’d just informed a child that not only was Santa Claus a fake, but a capitalist tool to boot, he gently backtracks. “It’s an important part of it… I don’t discount it,” he offers. Still, “in addition to being a library or a repository for significant art objects, more and more it’s incumbent on a museum— particularly in modern or contemporary art—to think of itself as a social forum.”

The Major Project
Collins begins gathering theoretical steam again, but the more he’s drawn to pondering “telos points,” the more I keep reminding him of the thorny specifics facing him.

Indeed, this past year has been anything but placid for the museum. Its previous director, Terry Riley, hired in 2006 to shepherd the new MAM into place, suddenly resigned—on the eve of the international attention focused on Miami by Art Basel, no less. Then came the election of a mayor who questioned the museum’s entire feasibility. “It is very difficult to predict whether the city will have the money to do whatever was planned for Museum Park,” Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado breezily told Miami Today last fall. “If the museums are not able to come up with the money, the land reverts to the city.”

Within the local art community itself, many prominent figures have been less than zealous in rushing to MAM’s defense. Über-collector Marty Margulies, a longtime critic of the museum’s somewhat meager art holdings, warned that taxpayers would eventually foot far more than they were being told: half of the projected $200 million total. As for MAM’s other half of that $200 million, he further doubted whether all of its $45 million in private pledges would actually pan out in the face of the lingering recession.

Twisting the knife, Margulies then announced his own donation of $5 million to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art—which he contrasted as a “quality” institution. This on the heels of the reported departure of MAM trustee Ella Fontanals-Cisneros and her own $5 million pledge. It’s also telling that fellow marquee collectors Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz and Mera and Don Rubell—though not openly hostile—have yet to break out their checkbooks, preferring instead to concentrate on their own private museums.

After years of fundraising, it’s hard to imagine there’s still an untapped pool of wealthy philanthropists. Accordingly, I tell Collins that many folks remain dubious of MAM and Museum Park ever being built. Which brings us back to Collins staring across his desk at me, dumbfounded, asking about heroin use.

“I have extraordinary confidence in this project or I wouldn’t have given up a job I love to move to this city,” Collins bristles. Though he’s fully confident in the museum’s ongoing capital campaign, he says the money is already there to open the front door in 2013. Of the projected $200 million total, the building and park construction itself costs $131 million. Add the county’s already earmarked $100 million in bond money to MAM’s previously raised $45 million, and the museum is over its needed amount. The outstanding sum, Collins says, goes toward operating funds and the endowment.

Like what you're reading? Get it delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up now for our newsletters >>