Young At Art Museum (YAA) has had the privilege to serve the community for over 31 years, impacting the lives of families and inspiring the child in all of us through the power of art. We provide art to children for whom having an outlet and form of expression is so crucial including homeless children, children in transitional homes, children with autism or other sensory integration sensitivities, at-risk teen girls and many underserved children. Since opening our doors in 1989, Young At Art Museum has served over 1 million constituents in Broward County. While art programming has recessed in public schools across the county, Young At Art Museum has expanded to meet the growing creative and cultural needs of our community. YAA was financially successful in our first two locations with landlords who understood the importance of the arts and generously provided donated space. We are forever grateful to them for believing in our mission.
In 2006, Founder and CEO, Mindy Shrago led a capital campaign fundraising millions of dollars towards the purchase of land and construction of YAA’s first permanent home. In May of 2012, our dream was realized: the opening of a 55,000 square foot state-of-the-art Gold Green LEED certified YAA building, housing a 10,000 square foot children’s library. Our lease with Broward County stated that they “believe that YAA is a valuable resource to the community that adds culture and provides educational experience for County’s youth, and (the) County hopes that YAA succeeds and maintains its presence in Broward County for a long time.” We were excited to work together with Broward in service of our community. Unfortunately, we quickly understood that our partners did not view YAA as a valuable resource and would not hold up their end of the partnership. Now, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Broward County’s punitive actions have ensured YAA’s failure.
From the onset of our partnership, the County has grossly mismanaged the maintenance of the YAA building and the surrounding campus. In 2014, an investigation was opened into the Broward County Facilities Management Division and in 2016, an OIG report filed. In it, the Inspector General found “Gross Mismanagement” for the Division's oversight of landscaping vendors. (...Gross Mismanagement by the Broward County Facilities Management Division, Ref. OIG 14-026). The OIG report lists four photographs of unsightly lawn conditions and states “The Young at Art Facility is yet another example of the unacceptable conditions.” This OIG report was kept quiet and no newspaper outlet or media coverage came of the report. At the time of the investigation, Ian Mitchell was the Contract Administrator responsible for managing, coordinating, monitoring, and evaluating performance of the vendors that service the YAA building. During his interview with the OIG, Mr. Mitchell admitted that he had “dropped the ball” and “should have done more” in reference to his oversight of YAA’s landscaping vendor. Instead of making positive personnel changes, the County promoted Ian Mitchell to assistant director of the Broward County Facilities Management Division.
The OIG report was created to correct gross mismanagement but with nobody at the County held accountable, we have been left with the continued repercussions. We have documented the consequences YAA has faced due to this mismanagement which include but are not limited to:
1. After YAA opened its doors in 2012, the County did not install signage onto the building for Young At Art until January 2020, despite continued requests
2. Inoperable security and operational tools which pose security risks to YAA and have been ignored by the County such as the many broken security cameras, broken PA system and lack of sound activated security alarms on exterior doors.
3. Drone aerial footage of our dilapidated building, which had badly deteriorated due to the failure of the paint to adhere as necessary preparations were not taken prior to painting. We have uncovered the County’s report from a lab which confirms this finding and is public record.
4. Videos, photographs and other documents (some of which are also public record) which clearly exhibit mismanagement that resulted in improper lawn maintenance.
5. The County-contracted Cleaning Supervisor neglected conducting annual cleanings, referred to as “air qualities.”
6. County-contracted vendors commonly entered the premises without supervision from YAA’s building manager. This often exposed children to dangerous areas of the museum including one occasion when four children entered the Young At Art Server room.
7. The unauthorized use of YAA machinery by County employees including the haphazard abandonment of the lift in the library.
8. Unlabeled circuit breakers, a simple yet crucial task when considering the safety of children and families.
9. Substandard plumbing maintenance which led to the most recent diagnosis of needing complete renovation due to neglect.
10. Neglected to install cover for outdoor kilns, creating unsafe working conditions for students.
Without proper building maintenance, it became more challenging to maintain the business within. For years, we explained to the County that their gross mismanagement and lack of service are damaging the building, making fundraising impossible for us and putting our partnership and service to the community at risk. The County responded with claims of past operating (mostly maintenance) expenses. Their actions have not been those of a partner who hopes for our success, but rather of one who wants to be paid in full for services poorly provided or not provided at all.
Currently YAA has paid rent through February 29, 2020 up until the COVID-19 pandemic began. On March 17, 2020, the County issued executive orders which directed YAA to close its doors and suspend all programs and functions due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. YAA lost revenue with the termination of Museum admissions, fundraisers, camps, classes, field trips, birthdays, and community events. In the face of great uncertainty and adversity, YAA staff continued to enrich and empower our community through the arts by driving to underserved communities to distribute art kits, mask-making kits and Bombas socks via our ArtREACH Program and Summer Break Spot sites. Our Community Initiatives Team also conducted a Driving Graduation Party for ArtREACH families, delivering students’ graduation certificates and artwork made during the school year, non-perishable food bags, balloons and goodie bags with toys.
YAA generates most of its income during the Summer but unfortunately that revenue stream was also greatly affected because of the drastic social distancing and capacity requirements put in place by the County due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Summer Camp was our only paid program we could run yet it operated at a financial loss and ran solely for the benefit of our constituents who needed a place for their children while they were at work. We hoped to find a partner in the County- one that could work together in prioritizing the safety of our staff, students and their families however the County completely mismanaged many health protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic. When YAA reported COVID-19 concerns and asked for guidance and proper reporting, no known action was taken. County-vendor Triangle Cleaning Services manager falsely accused the museum of two positive COVID-19 cases, setting in motion a highly consequential staff-wide rumor by sharing this fabricated medical information with another Triangle employee. Instead of making the necessary reports about county/vendor transgressions, the County FMD department sent the museum a letter saying they were suspending services by the County Janitorial Vendor in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a non-profit Young At Art Museum serves Broward County and is therefore eligible for funding provided by our County’s Cultural Division. Because of YAA’s quality programs we were designated to receive two grants totalling over $160,000.00 from the Cultural Division. In an attempt to attack YAA and hurt its ability to fight the County in an upcoming legal dispute, we were informed by the Cultural Division that they, “have been advised by the administration of the County to withhold releasing some of these agreements be they the supplemental grant contract and also the processing of the amendment to the operating grant as well.” We called the Cultural Division to ask for further guidance and they informed us that they had never seen funds withheld in this manner and that they would need to speak to the commissioners for further guidance. (Recording attached)
After refusing to maintain our building, suspending our programs, offering no support throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and then withholding our grants, the County delivered their lethal blow on July 29th when they sent YAA an eviction notice. In it they stated that YAA had 10 days to make maintenance payments (despite their lack of upkeep on our maintenance) and rent payments (despite our inability to conduct any programming due to Broward County’s order). YAA was forced to cancel the upcoming year of preschool and the last two weeks of summer camp, forcing many parents to hastily search for alternative childcare options.
We would love to continue to serve the Broward community and look forward to a meaningful conversation about the future of Young At Art Museum and Broward County’s partnership. However, in order to move forward we need your help showing the Broward County Commission why the arts matter in Broward! Sign the petition and read below to get involved in our social media campaign.