Numerous documents obtained by REDBROWARD show Young At Art (YAA) officials and Broward County leaders were aware of problems with controversial exhibits over a year ago. Last November, REDBROWARD detailed issues surrounding a report from an independent consultant hired by the County to examine the financial situation at YAA. One of the main issues uncovered by the consultant was the Bedlam Lorenz Assembly (BLA) program operated under the guidance of Zack Spechler, the son of of YAA executive director Mindy Shrago.
Earlier this month, REDBROWARD exposed controversial exhibits displayed under the YAA/BLA banner. One exhibit, entitled “Naughty By Nature,” featured nude men and women and pornographic images. Video and photographs show children at the event. While this raunchy exhibit was not held at the children’s museum in Davie, it was clearly sponsored by Young At Art.
Another exhibit curated by Zack Spechler featured men and women brnading themselves with a “Pen15” stamp. If one looks closely, “Pen15” looks like the word “penis.” Patrons were encouraged to join Zack Spechler’s “Pen15 Club.”
In her report, independent consultant Louise Stevens singled out another YAABLA exhibit held at the children’s museum. Stevens worried the BLA exhibits created potential liability issues for the museum and Broward County. She singled out the “Chasing Rabbits” sound exhibit by Tina La Porta. Stevens wrote, “Chasing Rabbits…played over the PA system…and would have been heard throughout the building.”
REDBROWARD listened to Chasing Rabbits by LaPorta. According to the artist, it deals with her mental illness diagnosis. It features disturbing voices and sounds not suitable for children. Stevens wrote it would be hard for parents to prevent children from hearing it in common spaces. (A rebuttal from YAA obtained by REDBROWARD claims the performance played after hours at an adults-only event.)
Spechler Hurt YAA Staff Morale?
In addition to the nature of his exhibits, the independent consultant detailed financial and whistleblower issues caused by Zack Spechler’s role at Young At Art. Despite a conflict of interest policy at YAA, Louise Stevens reported that Zack Spechler and his sister Ali Shrago Spechler were paid by the museum. She wrote, “Yet the family conflict of interest is clearly evident on the YAA web site, has been evident in numerous news and magazine stories about Zack Spechler’s work in the museum, and is clearly evident on the BLA web site.” While Stevens argued the YAA board was unaware of the conflict, the museum rebuttal provided to REDBROWARD claims otherwise. The museum said it was “inaccurate” as Spechler was listed on the IRS Form 990. The rebuttal claims, “Board members have been aware of family involvement since the inception of YAA.”
Stevens questioned whether Young At Art’s whistle blower policy was effective. She wrote, “Senior staff members expressed fear when they requested the opportunity to speak individually to the consultant about YAABLA and about having to report to and follow the directives of the Director’s son.” Under the whistle blower policy, YAA staffers are to direct their complaints to the CEO or chair of the board.
Stevens wrote, “Unknowingly, the board has been complicit with the CEO in maintaining Zack Spechler’s relationship with the organization, but in concern of reprisal from the CEO or Mr. Spechler, staff were unable to go to the board to utilize any whistle blowing opportunities. The result, at best, is that of negatively impacting morale as well as creating difficulties for how senior staff are able to carry out their jobs.”
Stevens reported that Mindy Shrago was present in the room during all her interviews with staff. In private meetings, Stevens claimed staffers did not want to discuss nepotism, fearful of “retaliation from the CEO and/or Mr. Spechler.”
In its terse rebuttal, museum officials wrote, “YAA disagrees with these statements.”
YAA Board Changes Official Stance On Mindy Shrago’s Son
Young At Art was more forthcoming about Zack Spechler in its more formal response to the independent consultant’s report. The museum stated Spechler was hired as a contractor to “support the curating team…which includes a team of four YAA staffers.” YAA claimed Spechler’s duties included procurement of local artists and special guests for a summer workshop as well as “design of exhibits.” The museum stated Zack Spechler was paid $17,000 for 2013-2014 and $24,000 for 2014-2015.
Young At Art’s response stated, “We agree that this was not as transparent as it should have been and definitely appears as a conflict of interest. We have asked Zack to document his achievement and contributions and have them reviewed by the board so they can make a determination on value received.”
YAA stated the position will be changed and Mindy Shrago would recuse herself from the process.
In August 2015, Jose Pagan, then the YAA Board Chairman, delivered an official response to Broward County Adminstrator Bertha Henry. YAA addressed “key finding 11” which focused on Zack Spechler, Bedlam Lorenz Assembly (BLA) and the conflict of interest. YAA stated the BLA program had been “eliminated.”
YAA wrote, “YAA’s conflict of interest of policy was updated on June 9, 2015 to include both board and staff and will be formally approved by YAA’s Board at its September 2015 meeting. The updated policy will require prior approval by the Board of all conflict situations.”
As to payments, YAA stated BLA “did not receive a check. To be clear, some of the members, as individual contractors, were paid for their services as artists and exhibit fabricators.”
Pagan and the YAA Board made it clear that while Spechler’s payments appeared on the IRS Form 990, “Approval of the Board of Directors was not obtained prior to these disclosures.”
Within a few months, many of the Young At Art board members were removed. Jose Pagan was replaced by David Di Pietro, a close personal friend of Mindy Shrago’s husband, Jay Spechler.
As REDBROWARD reported earlier this year, David Di Pietro was removed as chairman of Broward Health by Governor Rick Scott amid charges of intimidation and interference in ongoing investigations.
On Tuesday, the Broward County Commission will discuss giving control of Young At Art to the Broward County Cultural Division.