Lawyers representing Broward County want a judge to dismiss most of the claims made in a lawsuit filed by the taxpayer-supported Young At Art (YAA) Children’s Museum in Davie. Last October, the controversial museum filed the lawsuit fearing an imminent takeover by Broward County government. Founded by Mindy Shrago, YAA was trying to negotiate another new payment deal with County officials. Broward County Commissioners hired an independent consultant to investigate Young At Art.
Numerous documents obtained by REDBROWARD show Young At Art officials and Broward County leaders were aware of problems with controversial exhibits two years ago. Last November, REDBROWARD detailed issues surrounding a report from Louise Stevens, 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.
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 branding 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 2012, it appears Zack Spechler played a key role in morphing the Young At Art children’s museum into an adult art museum. According to numerous published reports, the Young At Art (YAA) Children’s Museum has catered to more adult tastes since its new taxpayer-funded building opened in Davie. On multiple occasions, Young At Art curator Zack Spechler has boasted of the museum’s focus on more adult art.
An April 2013 New Times article declared,” Bedlam Lorenz Assembly Upgrades Young At Art.” The New Times story documented how YAA changed from, “a children’s museum cast away on the outskirts of suburbia” under the direction of Zack Spechler. “And now, with the involvement of young professionals, this formerly dinky kids’ museum is turning into Broward’s most exciting new focal point for arts and culture,” the New Times reported.
New Times wrote, “One way that Young At Art has made strides toward an elevated, ‘adult’ museum experience has been through a core group of young innovators who originally came together to help raise funds for the new museum.” This group of friends was led by Zack Spechler. A New Times article from November 2013 highlighted how Young At Art’s content had become more “adult-friendly.” The “Counting Backwards” exhibit was an experimental media show which ponders, “the world’s demise and our own.” Even the New Times questioned if the apocalypse was an appropriate Young At Art exhibit.
WHAT IS ZACK SPECHLER’S ROLE AT YOUNG AT ART?
Zack Spechler and Bedlam Lorenz Assembly’s role at Young At Art was a major focus of the independent consultant’s review of the museum. In a slide show presentation, consultant Louise Stevens wrote Young At Art had, “not properly disclosed relationship” with the Bedlam Lorenz Assembly. She wrote the YAABLA relationship had been, “extensively publicized…, but not disclosed in County agreements nor IRS form 990s.” Stevens believed the YAABLA relationship constituted a breach of the museum’s deal with the County.
Stevens found other problems with the YAABLA relationship. She believed BLA commissioned exhibits and held classes at Young At Art without any formal relationship. Stevens believed BLA had been given curatorial authority over YAA. Stevens noted that Mindy Shrago was listed as a member of the BLA and its “key members” included her children Zack Spechler and Ali Shrago Spechler.
YAA PAID SPECHLER MORE THAN $40,000
Despite claiming the museum incurred no costs from its relationship with the Bedlam Lorenz Assembly, IRS forms show YAA paid Zack Spechler more than $40,000 over two years. The 2013 Form 990 shows Spechler was paid $17,636 for “services as an artistic/exhibit consultant.” The 2014 form shows Spechler received $24,000 for services as an artistic consultant.
While management stated BLA was not an “in-residence group,” an April 2014 SouthFlorida.com story stated an exhibit was “from Young At Art’s in-house contemporary art collective the Bedlam Lorenz Assembly.” The story even quoted “exhibit curator and BLA founder” Zack Spechler.
“WAR” OR NEW DEAL?
In October, County Commissioners blasted YAA Chairman David Di Pietro for filing a lawsuit against the County while trying to negotiate another deal for the troubled taxpayer-funded museum. County Attorney Joni Coffey called it “ridiculous” while Commissioner Mark Bogen signaled the County was ready to “go to war” if YAA did not come back to the table in good faith.
Di Pietro tried to blame the County for the hastily filed lawsuit. He claimed the museum had no choice because the County was ready to take control of Young At Art. However, REDBROWARD showed YAA insiders laid the groundwork for the lawsuit late last year.
One week later, Di Pietro told County Attorneys the board voted to stay its lawsuit against the County while it negotiates a new deal. The Young At Art item has not appeared on the agenda since late last year.
OUT OF TIME?
In February, YAA asked a Broward County Judge to stay the proceedings for another ninety days. Judge William Haury gave them just forty-five days to finalize a deal. The stay was set to expire on March 23rd.
On that very day, Broward County lawyers filed a motion to dimiss three key counts of the YAA complaint. As of Friday, YAA has no responded to the motion.
Earlier this month, key representatives from Young At Art visited Broward County Commissioners to discuss the matter. Representatives included Mindy Shrago, David Di Pietro, Dana McLean and attorney Bruce Green. It’s unclear if Shrago’s spouse, the tempermental former judge Jay Spechler is active in negotiations.
Also unclear, how much is the lawsuit costing Broward County taxpayers? Salaries for Broward County lawyers and officials are paid with tax dollars. Who is paying the YAA legal team?
Young At Art is not on the May 5th Broward County Commission agenda.