Afrobeat godfather Fela Kuti’s musical, political, and sexual exploits fuel this continent-hopping production, which runs at the Arsht Center until the end of the week. To enter to win a free pair of tickets to the Thursday night performance, simply shout FELA! on the Beached Miami Facebook pagewith a link to this post. We will announce the winner via Facebook on Wednesday afternoon. Until then, here’s The Roots drummer Questlove (who, along with Jay-Z and others, produced the Broadway show) discussing Kuti’s impact on American hip-hop.
Idle Warship formed in 2009 when Talib Kweli, one of the finest lyricists in hip hop history, and singer RES (aka Shareese Ballard) cemented nearly 10 years of on-and-off collaborative work. In 2011, Kweli and RES released Idle Warship’s debut album, Habits of the Heart, which showcased Kweli’s impossibly quick and cerebral rhymes and RES’s world-class pop vocals in an electro-pop landscape.
In its short-lived honeymoon, Chum Bucket gave Miami the bona fide DIY punk venue it sorely needs.
A recent edition of NPR’s Friday afternoon South Florida Arts Beat program featured John Richard, president of Miami’s mainstream art temple, the Adrienne Arsht Center. He was on to discuss free theater events for public schools, and in the course of the interview the term “world-class” was used more than once to describe the Center and the significance it holds for the city. In his intro to the segment, host Ed Bell called the complex “a convener and a host in a powerful way” and a key tool in “building a South Florida arts audience for the future.”
With its prime real-estate and robust resources set aside for the arts, the Arsht Center casts a symbolic shadow — as immense as the regal structure’s actual shadow — on Miami’s alternative arts scene. Whether Miami is currently experiencing an “Alternative Renaissance” — as local blogger Liz Tracy recently declared in The Atlantic’s entertainment blog, inciting much debate in the article’s comment section — the city is nonetheless lacking in an essential type of venue that is as integral to vibrant underground scenes nationwide as a megahall like the Arsht is to mainstream urban culture. (Full disclosure: In my capacity as co-head of “experimental” music label and show-book agency Roofless Records, I was one of many sources quoted in Tracy’s article.)
As I use it, a “DIY venue” refers to an art (in this case, music) space that provides an alternative to the commercial, alcohol-driven world of nightclubs and bars. These warehouses, galleries, and homes all vary, but they find commonality in a pervasive sense of freedom both social and artistic. Whereas big-rooms like the Fillmore Miami Beach, dance clubs like the Vagabond, and even otherworldly dives like Churchill’s Pub strive to give their customers what they want so they will show up and spend money on drinks, DIY venues, in their infinite iterations, are spaces for free expression, true experimentation, and direct connection between fans and artists. These spaces are also more fun, it should be said, precisely because of their unadulterated intimacy.
It may be too early to tell whether Miami is truly amid an “Alternative Renaissance”. But a few camps are working hard, often in the face of great deterrence, to provide the homegrown DIY spaces that could be their respective micro-scene’s own Arsht Center and have catalyzed other cities’ underground growth spurts. This article, the first of a four-part series, will focus on one such space.
Miami is experiencing a “cultural explosion,” according to an article in Sunday’s Herald. “Yup,” I thought, when I first saw the headline. But then I read the subhead: “From the Arsht to the New World Center to the Design District, culture is booming all around us. Here’s why — and how it’s fueling the economy.” And then I noticed the photos in the accompanying slideshow: a “balloon-splashed” South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, a performance at the Miami City Ballet, a Wallcast at the New World Symphony.
I read on, curious to see if the article would mention any of the folks/artists/organizations that, in my opinion, are pushing Miami culturally these days. To her credit, reporter Jordan Levin shouted out a few of them — the Borscht Film Festival, O, Miami, the Rhythm Foundation — but she spent most of her word count crediting philanthropists and local government with the “explosion”.
Led by the Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Council, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and key private donors and organizers, they have helped build a growing matrix of arts organizations, from big institutions such as Miami City Ballet and the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts to a growing cadre of smaller groups that span the gamut from community-oriented to avant-garde.
Add a populist focus on free events that make the arts inviting to everyone from families to students to trendy 20-somethings — a deliberate audience-building effort by funders and leaders — and you have a critical cultural synergy.
The article also described Miami culture as a means to a glittering end, namely, large-scale development. An excerpt from its “Big Money” section:
Mike Eidson, chairman of the Arsht Center’s board of directors and a longtime major arts patron and behind-the-scenes player, says that the cultural boom helped attract attention from international companies such as Genting Malaysia Berhad, the giant Asian developer that will build a massive entertainment complex on the 14-acre Miami Herald site next to the Arsht Center.
Eidson pointed to the Arsht Center, Art Basel and the Wynwood gallery scene as prime lures for Genting and other developers, such as Spanish company Inmobiliaria Espacio, which owns a two-acre property immediately to the north of the Arsht, and Dacra Properties, which is creating a massive retail complex in the Design District.
“Miami is attracting these people because it’s the prettiest place, the most fun, and now it’s got great art,” Eidson says. “They say [we] put money into culture. That means something to them. The vibration from this cultural explosion affects everything. It’s really shaking up the place.”
That is how the article ended. Rather perversely, I thought. I scrolled down to the comments section to see how Herald readers felt about the piece. Generally speaking, they fell into two camps: cynical/unimpressed and sunny/optimistic.
“You gotta give ‘em credit for trying but unfortunately most of South Florida is STILL a cultural wasteland. The majority of our lovely neighbors wouldn’t know the difference between J. S. Bach, Celia Cruz and Lil’ Wayne.” — miamiguy34
“Great article, Ms. Levin. The Knight Foundation Grants have been particularly instrumental in helping artists break ground in new directions. I’ve witnessed a lot of projects that have been brought to fruition only through the help of these grants. Naysayers can nay all day, but everything you write about has made Miami a better place. Thank you.” — Skip Van Cel
“Significant disconnect between reporter and commenters. Can’t say I disagree with most of them. When I think culture, I think of what individuals and independents are doing. Philanthropically subsidized culture feels inauthentic.” — Me
Culture. It isn’t a political campaign or a sporting event or an FCAT question. It’s an amorphous thing. Like a cloud. It grows, it disperses, it darkly menaces and mercifully cools. And it holds the stuff that we humans need more than anything else, the water that doesn’t merely make life worth living but rather makes life.
At certain points in human history, the cloud bursts. The Italian Renaissance , 1920s Paris, post-WWII New York. An article that appeared in the Herald Sunday places present-day Miami amid a comparable “cultural explosion,” citing the opening of the New World Symphony’s New World Center, the growing popularity of Art Basel, and soaring attendance at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
There is something all three have in common: they’re big.
What’s size got to do with it? Well, when I think of culture, I think small. Call me gauche, but I care less about what’s happening at a grand concert hall than what’s happening at Churchill’s, and more about what the guy down the hall is painting in his studio apartment than what’s showing at a multimillion-dollar museum.
With such biases, you can perhaps understand why the Herald’s “cultural explosion” article rang hollow for me.