Miami culture isn’t a means to an end

By | June 6th, 2011 | 17 Comments

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

Finding myself in agreement with no one, I shared my own thoughts on Open Media Miami’s Facebook page, where I initially saw the Herald article posted.

“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

Five minutes later, Open Media founder and Herald editor Jared Goyette asked me to elaborate in the Herald. So I did. You can read the full piece at Here’s an excerpt.

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.

Your thoughts?

Follow Beached Miami on Twitter (@beachedmiami) and Facebook.

Show them the money!

By | May 16th, 2011 | No Comments
Knight Arts Challenge Miami

From 1,300 proposals to 56 finalists, the 2011 Knight Arts Challenge is nearing the finish line.

On Sunday, the Knight Foundation announced the 2011 finalists for the Knight Arts Challenge, which has funded seemingly every instance of arts and/or culture in Miami since it began in 2008, including the O, Miami poetry festival, the Borscht Film Festival, Sweatstock, Big Night in Little Haiti, and scores more.

There are 56 finalists this year (whittled down from 1,300 idea submissions) and, if tradition holds, between 20 and 30 of them will get a piece of the $20 million Challenge pie. I’ve looked over the finalists’ project descriptions on and, honestly, there’s hardly a dud in the bunch. In fact, to read all 56 project ideas is to get a glimpse of a future Miami known as well for its creative radiance as for its radiant beaches. It’s difficult to single any one idea out and say, “Fund this!” but here are ten I’d like to see still standing when Knight announces the winners in November. (My brief explanations are in italics.)

Ceramic League of Miami: To fill a growing need in Miami by providing ceramic artists with access to kilns and studio facilities in an idyllic setting on the Deering Estate grounds

Too many ceramic artists can do little more than watch Ghost to satisfy their yearning for burning clay because the bare necessities of pottery are damn hard to come by. This project addresses that need and gives potters a paradise to get their hands dirty in.

Coral Morphologic/Miami Science Museum: To build excitement for downtown’s Museum Park by creating a multimedia art project displaying video of a living coral reef aquarium juxtaposed with time-lapsed documentation of the park’s construction

This project appeals to me less for its “build excitement for downtown’s Museum Park” component than for what Coral Morphologic brings to the table. I’m behind anything that funds that duo’s aquatic wizardry.

Friends of Gusman and Sweat Records: To foster indie music through an annual Battle of the oBands that brings local acts out of the clubs and onto the stage of Miami’s original concert venue

I support creative blood sport, especially now that Miami has enough musical muscle to make the warfare worth listening to.

GableStage: To introduce a new audience to an old master by launching a Winter Shakespeare Festival, which will blend classic techniques with contemporary references in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company and acclaimed Miami-native playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney

I’m a sucker for the Bard, and I’ve always felt Tybalt exhibited a distinctly Miami brand of rage.

Joey Daoud: To provide a new way to experience local architecture by creating an iPhone app that allows people to simply point their phone at a building and have a rich visual experience, complete with interviews, historical photos, and short videos

Despite Art Deco, MiMo, and the “Old Florida” residences, Miami architecture is unsung by locals and outsiders alike. Opening people’s eyes to the vital structures around them with some newfangled technology might make the Steve-Jobs’-ego-sized Mac ad on the Herald building tolerable. Plus, I just got an iPhone.

Jillian Mayer: To create a conceptual variety show — a nod to similar shows in 1970s New York — that will feature artists filmed in front of a live audience, broadcast live, and later released as short videos

Entertaining, performative, video-centric, this project promises to draw on Mayer’s better artistic angels.

Karen Peterson and Dancers: To provide dance instruction to the 3,000 children with disabilities in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, who will perform their work at a gala performance

No explanation needed. This project has “Feel Good Movie of the Summer” written all over it.

Nereida Garcia Ferraz: To inspire a female-led art revolution in Liberty City by working with teens to create interdisciplinary works of art that transform parking lots, street corners, storefronts, and parks

I’ve had my fill of male-led art revolutions. Liberty City needs transformation and, judging from the work on her website, Nereida Garcia Ferraz is up to the task.

Roofless Records: To support Miami’s experimental music scene by helping the local label Roofless Records launch seasonal catalogs and a publishing house in addition to acquiring a sound system for events

Good to see Knight encouraging Miami musical misadventure via Roofless Records, the label behind the Cinema Sounds series.

Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre: To bring attention to Miami’s distinctive cultural voice by having the innovative Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre employ a full-time ensemble to create a repertoire

I am one of the benighted few who have yet to see the roundly praised work of Rosie Herrera. That’ll change if this project gets funded.


You can read all 56 finalist project descriptions at

Follow Beached Miami on Twitter (@beachedmiami) and Facebook