Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales has released the contract between the City and the curators for the ReFrame: Miami Beach programming during Memorial Day Weekend. Removal of artwork from one of the exhibits at Morales' request has raised concerns about censorship. In a Letter to Commission, Morales said the agreement with the local curators indicated “all installations were subject to the city’s review and approval.” He also refuted statements by the curators that the entire show would be shut down if they didn't remove the piece in question.
“Quinn Projects, LLC was contracted to curate multiple activations, which included a pop-up at 747 Lincoln Road,” Morales wrote. “This exhibition, entitled I See You, Too, was described in the contract as an exhibition about how propaganda and misinformation have compromised us. It was brought to my attention that one of the pieces in the exhibit appeared to be a memorial to an event that happened during Memorial Day in 2011. I felt that this panel was not at all constructive, potentially divisive and definitely insulting to our police as depicted and narrated. Therefore, as provided by the contract signed by both parties, I asked staff to contact the curators and have this particular piece removed from the exhibit. The Professional Services Agreement with both Quinn Projects, LLC and Team Ohhh, LLC expressly state [sic] that ‘all installations shall be subject to review and approval by the City Manager’s designee.’ This particular piece was not presented to staff and therefore did not receive formal approval for the exhibit plans prior to the installation.”
The art piece that was removed was titled Memorial for Raymond Herisse (shown above and below) by artist R. Jackson. Herisse was shot and killed by police during a high-speed chase on Collins Avenue. The incident resulted in a change in City policy to not shoot at moving vehicles.
The ReFrame exhibit was described in a City press release as a collaboration “with South Florida based artists to produce works that spark crucial conversations about inclusion, blackness and relationships.”
Octavia Yearwood of Team Ohhh told RE:MiamiBeach the curators disagree with Morales. “We would have never agreed to anything that implied or was saying that they could independently single-handedly pick out artwork that they didn’t want displayed in an exhibit or any of the locations. We would never agree to that because that’s pointless. You can get someone from your staff to put something together and not hire curators and artists who understand the power of art and who utilize art as a power. There was no way. We would have never agreed to any form of approval of censorship of the voices of the people that we brought on board for the activations.”
The phrase Morales’ referenced that “all installations were subject to the city’s review and approval” is within Exhibit A regarding Scope of Services, Curated Exhibitions. The full paragraph reads, “All venues are suggestions and not yet confirmed. All venues shall be subject to mutual agreement of the parties. All installations shall be subject to review and approval by the City Manager’s designee.” It is followed by a listing of potential exhibits and programs.
Morales’ letter continued, “Since this time, there have been comments on social media pertaining to the censorship of art. I assure you that it was not the intent of the city to censor art, but to maintain that the pieces included in the installations conveyed the intent of the city when using taxpayer dollars to commission these pieces. In addition, it was stated that there was a threat that the entire exhibit would be shut down if this piece was not removed. That is absolutely not true. The discussions were only centered around the removal of this specific piece of art. In fact, I actually visited the exhibit the next day.”
Yearwood and co-curator Jared McGriff released a statement earlier this week indicating they were told they “needed to remove the memorial of Raymond Herisse at the behest of the Miami Beach Police, due [to] their being offended by the memorial, or the entire exhibition “I See You, Too” would be shut down.” The statement said the curators “requested a conversation with the offended parties” which was “not accepted.”
In addition to Morales’ statement that he requested the removal of the art piece, Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates wrote in an email to this reporter, “I want to make absolutely clear to you and your readers that the Miami Beach Police Department did NOT ask that the art be taken down. It would be inappropriate for us to do so. We are cops. We don’t weigh in on the merits of artwork displayed in the city. As head of the agency, I would not allow the Department to take a position on a matter such as this. I think you already know that the City Manager made the decision in this matter. That is where such a policy decision should lie.”
The curators also said in their written statement, “The installation was removed under threat of consequences that would have further limited our expression. We stand by our artists and their first amendment rights. When The City underwrote the exhibition, they approved of the curatorial direction and did not ask for curatorial review. This incident was an act of art censorship, and while we as curators removed the artwork, it was removed under duress.”
Following the removal of the piece, the National Coalition Against Censorship issued a statement condemning the City's action.
“The work’s removal is especially ironic since it was part of the city-wide program “ReFrame”, an attempt to make Memorial Day celebrations more inclusive of Miami Beach’s black community," NCAC wrote. "A city spokesperson said that the program’s purpose was to create an opportunity for inclusiveness, and the City Manager felt that the artwork fell short of this objective. But surely it is the City’s shortsighted removal of the artwork that fell short of inclusivity. As an act of censorship it will likely cast a chilling effect on the city’s future collaborations with black artists.”
The NCAC statement concluded, “The ability to freely criticize government actors, such as law enforcement officials, is one of the foremost reasons why the First Amendment exists. Citizens’ freedom to speak out against perceived governmental abuses and injustices is necessary for the health of our democracy: were government able to silence such criticisms, meaningful political discourse would be impossible.”
City Commissioner Ricky Arriola who previously served as Chair of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County and was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities told RE:MiamiBeach, “My feeling on it is that Miami Beach has embraced arts and culture as part of its DNA and when we get into the gray area of censorship it’s a very slippery slope. Had I been in Jimmy’s shoes I would not have requested that the piece be removed simply because censorship almost in every instance draws more attention to the piece that you don’t want people to see than if you had just left it alone. This became a controversy because of the piece’s removal. Had it been left as part of the exhibit nobody would have known it even existed.”
Regarding the phrase in the contract about approval of the installations, Arriola said, “I think that when we engage an artist or an arts organization we give them parameters of what we’re trying to achieve, but then the details should be left to the artist and if certain things provoke or upset people sometimes that’s what art exists to do.”
“It’s been my experience that you fight bad speech and hate speech with good speech, not by trying to censor it," he said. "So, in other words, if you disagree with an artist or a statement you debate it and you highlight an opposing view. You don’t try to silence it. And in the case of this artist, I don’t agree with his portrayal of this individual as a martyr but the way to handle it is to debate it, not censor it.”
Under the contract, the curators were to be paid a total fee of $45,000. The first payment of $22,500 was to have been paid upon execution of the agreement. A payment of $18,000 was “to be paid upon securing of locations, artists, technical and support team project activations, as defined” in an attached exhibit to the contract. The third and final payment was “to be paid upon completion of project, receipt of photo/video documentation of project activations, and receipts for out of pocket expenses.”
With regard to payments, the contract notes “Upon receipt of an acceptable and approved invoice, payment(s) shall be made within forty-five (45) days for that portion (or those portions) of the Services satisfactorily rendered (and referenced in the particular invoice).”
City spokeswoman Melissa Berthier said, “The City has authorized payment for the final invoices.”
Morales’ full letter with the curators’ contract attached is here.
Contract Gave Miami Beach Approval Over Exhibit Where Artwork was Removed:
City Manager provides further details on events, releases contract with curators