Put It in Writing

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on Tuesday, 21 October 2014 in Blog Posts


North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), and the City of North Miami, Floridaare in the middle of dispute. To be fair, disputes involving creative businesses are nothing new (I wrote about a couple of doozies in a previous blog post), but the disagreement between MOCA and North Miami is very much out of the ordinary in that the dispute includes something so basic as who actually owns MOCA’s collection. Both MOCA’s board and the City of North Miami claim that they own MOCA’s collection.

How could a museum possibly be involved in a dispute about something as fundamental as the ownership of its collection? The answer, unfortunately, is that the agreement between MOCA and the City of North Miami appears to have not clearly defined what party owned the collection.

It is common thinking that contracts are really only of use when there’s a dispute between parties. That’s mostly true. The regrettable truth, however, is it is often very easy to avoid spending the time required to develop and execute a detailed, written contract when entering into a new venture. The future can look rosy as a new business or relationship gets underway. Visions of a beneficial business relationship can abound, and the efforts required to get put a detailed contract in place can seem like a buzz-kill at least, and counterproductive, at worst.

The truth is that the work required to put a proper contract in place is only wasted when the rosy future becomes rosy reality. In other words, unless you’ve got a perfectly functioning crystal ball to predict only a happy future, it’s probably best for all parties to expend the effort needed to put the details of your agreement with another party in writing.

The dispute between MOCA and North Miami has been reduced to mud-slinging in the press, including claims of racism, mismanagement, and breach of agreement. Such acrimony does nobody any good, including the arts community as a whole, so please, when entering into a large or long-term agreement, take the time to enter into a contract which all parties agree adequately and accurately describes what was agreed to when you shook hands.

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