As Miami's Vizcaya Museum hunts for director, trust aims to restore Italian village
By Paola Iuspa
The future executive director of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Trust will face restoration of the museum's northern Italian village at a price tag of about $20 million.
Richard Farwell, the trust's executive director, is preparing to retire after 17 years with the group, but plans to rehabilitate 11 northern baroque buildings west of South Miami Avenue are moving forward. So does a proposal to create a master plan to delineate the future function of the 87-year-old vacant village.
"The development of Village Vizcaya, creating a master plan and implementing the village as an educational center is the biggest challenge the new executive director will face," Mr. Farwell said Monday. "It is exciting. Any director will like this challenge."
Planning to stay until his successor is in place, the 61-year-old said the trust hired Opportunity Resources Inc. in New York to lead a national search. The firm, which specializes in executive search for nonprofit cultural and educational institutions, began contacting possible candidates in January, said Freda Mindlin, company president and CEO.
"We had an outstanding response," she said.
Her company does not have a deadline to find the best candidate.
"The search can take one month or six months," she said. "It does not matter. The goal is to find the right person for the position."
While the trust's selection committee is to pick the most qualified candidate, the Miami-Dade County Commission, in concurrence with the county manager, will have final say, Mr. Farwell said.
Running on a $3 million budget with no county subsidies, the trust reports to the commission, which has owned Vizcaya Museum and Gardens since 1952.
Miami-Dade County commissioners in 1998 granted governing authority to the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Trust. The 25-member trust began operating three years ago, said Arva Moore Parks, the group's chairwoman and a Miami historian.
"This is a great moment to hire a new executive director," she said. "We are about to make a leap to enhance Vizcaya's perception as a great museum. We want someone to take the museum to a next level: to be recognized nationally and internationally."
Conditions for the next director to be successful started to fall into place when the trust gained autonomy from the county's parks department and took control over its policy-making process, Mr. Farwell said. While the county still must approve the group's budget and restoration project costs, trustees set their agenda.
Another change that took place last month was the merger of two nonprofit groups supporting different aspects of the museum.
The Vizcayans, who raised funds for the museum's restoration and preservation, and the Foundation for Villa Vizcaya, who replenished an endowment to protect and provide for the museum, joined forces in March after months of discussions, he said. Vizcaya Volunteer Guide, a nonprofit that provides tours of the museum, remained independent, Mr. Farwell said.
"With so many organizations there was confusion in the public," he said. "People did not know who ran the Vizcaya."
Ms. Moore Parks said creation of the trust, the union of both groups and the trust's solid financial condition would make it easy for the new director to take the museum to the next step.
Max Blumberg, a trustee and member of the selection committee, said the ideal candidate should be able to create alliances with many organizations and develop programs for local residents interested in education, interpretation, research, publication and lectures.
The selected candidate would be responsible for overseeing the restoration of the farm village, Mr. Farwell said. The trust expects the exterior remodeling of the buildings - built as a dairy barn, poultry house, mule stable, greenhouse, machine shop and staff residences servicing Chicago industrialist James Deering's Vizcaya mansion - to be done by July.
Vizcaya Museum, the foundation and the State of Florida provided $1.3 million to install new roofs and secure building structures. It also funded the interior and exterior restoration of a village conference and concert hall to accommodate up to 100 people, set to open in October, he said.
The trust recently hired a consultant to draw architectural and engineering plans for the approximately 20-acre village at a cost of about $500,000, said Mr. Blumberg, also heading the Vizcayans. The master plan could be ready in a year, after public hearings and commissioners' approval, Mr. Farwell said.
After completion, the foundation will begin a capital program to raise funds to refurbish the interior of the 11 historic buildings and convert them into educational and cultural facilities, Mr. Blumberg said.
"It is a very exciting time," he said. "We are looking at a bright future for the Vizcaya."