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Jorge Perez Controversy: Miami Art Museum Naming Backlash Draws Cries Of Racism

Jorge Perez

First Posted: 12/20/11 12:08 PM ET Updated: 12/20/11 01:28 PM ET

Miami's art world finds itself in an uncomfortable controversy in the wake of a $35 million donation to the Miami Art Museum.

Jorge Perez, a wealthy real estate developer who gifted the institution $20 million in cash and $15 million in Latin American art, receieved the naming rights to the museum in return for the generous sum, but four board members resigned when the announcement was made (and one even took out a full-page ad in the Miami Herald to protest the change).

The museum was named the Jorge M. Perez Museum of Miami-Dade County, and many are now wondering if anti-Hispanic sentiments are to blame for the outrage.

"Perhaps stupidly, I thought people would say, 'This is amazing,' Perez says in a lengthy interview with the Miami Herald. "Not only has someone stepped up so that this museum can become a reality, but a Cuban American has finally stepped up with a major contribution to the arts in Miami."

Those opposed to the name change say that while the gift is generous, it shouldn't overshadow the hundreds of millions of dollars that Miami citizens have contributed to the museum's endowment, including a 2005 bill that allocated $100 million of taxpayer money toward the construction of a new home for the museum.

But to Perez, that logic just doesn't add up. He cites plenty of examples of other -- non-Hispanic -- donors receiving name rights to public institutions in exchange for similar gifts. The Miami Science Museum, for example, was renamed to the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science after the Frosts pledged $35 million. In many of the counterexamples cited in the piece, the public had contributed far greater than it did in the case of the Miami Art Museum.

The New York Times noted earlier this month that of the 35 board members present, only four voted against the renaming (with one abstention).

For more on the story, including why Jorge Perez says he was inspired to make the donation, head over to the Miami Herald.

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Filed by Kia Makarechi  |