Jorge Pérez accuses Miami-Dade of punishing art museum for celebrating Cuban artists

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A report by Douglas Hanks for the Miami Herald.

Real estate mogul Jorge Pérez accused Miami-Dade commissioners of punishing his namesake art museum for featuring Cuban artists when they shifted $550,000 from the Pérez Art Museum Miami to a new Miami museum dedicated to Cuban immigrants.

In an interview with the Art Newspaper, Pérez linked PAMM’s display of works by artists still living in Cuba with the recent loss of some county funds for a museum built with tax dollars and still subsidized by Miami-Dade.

“They could have taken the money from other museums on an equal basis,” Pérez told the Art Newspaper in an interview published Wednesday as Art Basel week makes Miami the temporary hub of global art circles. “They only took it from PAMM. This was definitely an orchestrated move, and it was punishment for our show.”

In approving the 2018 county budget, the county commission’s seven Cuban-American members voted on Sept. 28 to pull back $550,000 of the $4 million that PAMM was slated to receive this year. The 13-member board shifted the money to subsidize operations at a new county-funded institution called the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Miami.

The six commissioners who aren’t Cuban-American voted against it. There was no mention of the PAMM exhibit, “On the Horizon: Contemporary Art,” which includes pieces donated by Peréz. But the museum’s director alluded to the controversy when he said during the budget hearing that no county dollars given to PAMM went toward acquiring the Cuban art.

Pérez is the second-largest backer of the museum, behind Miami-Dade taxpayers. The county borrowed $100 million to build the museum, which opened on the Miami waterfront in 2013. Pérez has pledged or donated about $50 million in art and cash. The county also provides a yearly operating subsidy for the museum’s $15 million budget. Pérez is chief executive of the Related Group, a major player in local real estate projects and last year’s winner of the hard-fought county contract to redevelop the Liberty Square housing complex in Miami.

The Diaspora museum, which is called The Cuban, celebrates the role of Cubans who have left the island nation and moved elsewhere. It has held exhibitions of Cuban art, but only by artists who have left the island.

Esteban “Steve” Bovo Jr., the Cuban-American chairman of the County Commission and son of a Bay of Pigs veteran, said the funding shift was not punishment. “It was rewarding the Cuban Museum of Diaspora for the good work that they’re doing,” said Bovo, who voted for the funding measure. “I’m aware of the [PAMM] exhibit. I’ve talked to Mr. Peréz about it. But I did not equate what we did with punishment.”

Pérez, who was born in Argentina to Cuban parents and is a top donor to Democrats, traveled with President Barack Obama to Cuba in 2016, and blamed the administration of President Donald Trump for renewing tensions on the issue of Cuba.

“The continuing of the embargo and the rhetoric from Cuba and the U.S. against each other have not resulted in anything but the suffering of the Cuban people,” Pérez told the Art Newspaper. “President Trump is giving credence again to the very radical right-wing part of the Cuban community. And politicians are using that.”

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