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Dec 13th
The Next Wave PDF Print E-mail
Written by Anne Tschida, BT Arts Editor; Photos by Silvia Ros   
December 2017

Miami gains a broader, deeper, more mature landscape for the arts

ECoverStory_cover_shot_ica_0090ver since Art Basel Miami Beach arrived in 2002, much hype has surrounded our regional arts scene, some of it unfounded. Miami had been developing a home-grown cultural environment since the 1980s, but its progress had been spotty.

As Art Basel returns for its 16th year, however, a noticeable change has occurred. Finally Miami-Dade can claim a serious cultural underpinning -- a second generation of arts groups and leaders is building on the foundations and reshaping the landscape.

Just look to the southern end of the county, where the gorgeous South Miami-Dade County Cultural Arts Center arose from what was pretty barren cultural terrain in 2011. It has since anchored diverse local and international arts programming, and this year became the resident home of one of Miami’s latest dance companies, Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami (DDTM).

The surprising success of this troupe is a great example of the local talent that is driving the arts forward. First off, dance is a difficult discipline to sustain, even in such traditional centers as New York and London. So when two Miami City Ballet dancers, Jennifer Kronenberg and her husband Carlos Guerra, decided to branch out on their own with a new company in May 2016, the path looked daunting.

“We didn’t know where we would dance, when, or how to fund it” says Kronenberg. “But it was just something we knew we had to do.” They saw a void that could be filled.

CoverStory_1__ica_0081While Miami has several ballet companies, DDTM looked to programming that would reflect Miami’s unique makeup. For the company première in November 2016, the dances incorporated Cuban rhythms and boleros -- and it was a hit. The company rode the wave from there. This summer DDTM featured a ballet from Venezuela’s most acclaimed choreographer, Vicente Nebrada; and this fall the music came from a tango quartet.

In a remarkably short time, DDTM secured funding, a home in South Dade, and a large following. Looking to the future, Kronenberg says, the company will enhance its ties to the community, performing in schools and “making ballet accessible to everyone.”

Now they can be considered part of the second wave of innovators. Their alma mater, the Miami City Ballet, co-founded in 1985 by Edward Villella, was part of the first wave.


TCoverStory_2_dance_dimensions_0159his month the latest addition to our museum pantheon, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (ICA), unveiled its new home, a striking three-story building in the Design District. Founded and funded by the Braman family, the importance of this museum cannot be underestimated. In a sense, it follows in the line of one of the few traditions Miami has -- that of private arts patrons playing a major role in the art conversation. The de la Cruz Collection also in the Design District and, in Wynwood, the Rubell Family Collection and the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse all helped form the initial foundation.

With its 15,000-square-foot outdoor sculpture garden and more than 20,000 square feet of gallery space, all of it free to the public, the ICA is sure to become a destination stop for locals and tourists alike. According to director Ellen Salpeter, the ICA “is an urban museum, built into the city, into the [geography of] the Design District.” If you’re out walking in the area, “you can duck into the garden, sit in a little bit of green,” and then check out the “world-class art inside.”

The emphasis will be on contemporary art, from marquee names to local talent. Its main inaugural exhibit includes Yves Klein, Andy Warhol, and Bruce Nauman, while another gallery inside the museum features Miamian Tomm El-Saieh. “We want to go deep, as opposed to broad,” says Salpeter about the programming at ICA.

CoverStory_3_dance_dimensions_0125One of Miami’s very first arts institutions, the ArtCenter/South Florida, is getting its own makeover. After selling its flagship building on Lincoln Road in South Beach in 2014 for a staggering $88 million, the ArtCenter has been spreading its wings across the county. This summer it hired a new director, Dennis Scholl, the former vice president of the arts for the Knight Foundation, signaling more changes ahead.

A chief concern at the moment, says Scholl, is to “support the visual artists of Miami-Dade, finding a way to provide safe and productive works spaces.” That means good studios that “let artists elevate their practice.” According to Scholl, Miami is “at a turning point, a pivot point where we can change the face of visuals arts.”

Scholl wants to see more Miami artists placed in residencies abroad, and conversely to bring top-notch artists, curators, and critics to Miami. An ArtCenter aim is to promote “artists in our community to the greater world, to bring it to the next level” by monetarily facilitating travel and international connections.

Locally, says Scholl, he is developing collaborations with other institutions, such as with the art house O Cinema and the nonprofit gallery Locust Projects.

The influential Locust Projects, whose original location helped establish Wynwood as Miami’s first real arts district, is also undergoing changes. Lorie Mertes, formerly a curator at the Miami Art Museum (now Pérez Art Museum Miami), who left for stints in the Northeast, was appointed director of Locust last spring. As of November, Locust is taking on the defunct Cannonball programs -- the Wavemaker grants and LegalLink, which offers legal advice to artists. According to Mertes, “It’s part of our vision for becoming an even greater resource to artists living and working in Miami and [the] creative community hub.”

Miami can now claim several art districts: the clustering around downtown (PAMM, Frost Museum of Science, Miami Center for Architecture and Design, the Adrienne Arsht Center); Wynwood; the Design District; Little Haiti, and yes, even the original hub of South Beach. That’s where the latest addition to the theater world decided to take up residency.


MCoverStory_4_ica_0013iami New Drama, in its second year, is based at the Colony Theatre on Lincoln Road. Director Michel Hausmann, a native of Venezuela,  decided he needed to quit his homeland when tear gas disrupted one of his productions. He moved to New York, but it seemed a little

Hausmann could not be more enthusiastic about his new home. “A diverse, multi-ethnic cultural Miami,” he says, is the perfect place for him “to tell stories that reflect where we are” as a country. Like Dimensions Dance, Hausmann incorporates a Miami essence in New Drama’s works. The first major production was

Coming later in the season: an adaptation of another recent classic, at least to Miami: the film documentary from local boys Billy Corben and Alfred Spellman, Cocaine Cowboys.

“I want Miami New Drama to look and feel like Miami,” says Hausmann, “with a cast that looks like this community.”

An institution that has gone through its share of ups and downs during Miami’s cultural birthing pains is the Miami-Dade College Museum of Art and Design, or MOAD. It also has a new director as of this year, and another Venezuelan transplant, Rina Carvajal. She is shaking up the somewhat predictable mold of what was previously shown at the iconic Freedom Tower downtown.

CoverStory_5_scholl_0043The Tower has been closed for renovations, so Carvajal has scheduled a ten-month performance program called “Living Together” that will take place all over the city. Major international artists, such as Carrie Mae Weems, Tino Sehgal, Maria José Arjona, and William Kentridge, will contribute to the series of performance art, video screenings, and talks, in a mission to “find new ways to think about civic space and citizenship,” says Carvajal. She also believes we’re at a critical juncture, with anti-immigrant and exclusionary sentiments plaguing the political landscape, a time when art needs to come out of the galleries and be part of the discourse.

On April 6, 2018, MOAD will reopen with “By the People: Designing a Better America,” an art-and-architecture-themed exhibit exploring the challenges facing urban, suburban, and rural America. Far from your typical paintings-on-walls show, “By the People” will address such issues as affordable housing, access to healthy foods, and transportation (hello, Miami!).

The Freedom Tower, built in 1925 in Mediterranean Revival style, might be best known as the processing center it became for Cuban refugees during the 1960s. And it is hard to talk about the future landscape of Miami’s cultural community without including the impact Cuban and Cuban Americans have played. Here, once again, there are changes afoot.


TCoverStory_6_hausmann_0055ake, for instance, the Cintas Foundation. Established in 1957 by Oscar Cintas, an art aficionado and one-time Cuban ambassador to the United States, the foundation has awarded artists of Cuban heritage grants in the fields of art, architecture, music, and writing. Recipients have included such luminaries as Reinaldo Arenas, Oscar Hijuelos, Félix González-Torres, Carlos Alfonso, and José Bedia.

But until this year, recipients could not be artists still working on the island. The board looked at the rapidly shifting dynamics of the art world, and decided that the exclusion was obsolete, explains the new Cintas director Victor Deupi (his appointment came after the decision was made). “The demographics have changed,” he says, and “Cuban art was available everywhere.” After President Obama opened the diplomatic door, exchanges began happening regularly, with “Cuban artists moving back and forth, in a much more fluid world.”

This being Miami, there was blowback. The recently opened American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora, funded by taxpayers, refused to host the Cintas Fellows exhibit this year after the announcement that Cuban artists could apply for the grants. But unlike the past, the show went on, with a change of venue. The expertly curated show of Cintas fellows, “Between the Real and the Imagined: Abstract Art from Cintas Fellows,” moved to the Coral Gables Museum for its October run. The Cuban museum remained relatively moribund.

Deupi is a Cuban-American who teaches architecture at the University of Miami. He moved here because of another new hire, his wife, Jill Deupi, now the director of the Lowe Art Museum at UM. Looking forward, he is determined to make Cintas a household name as one of the major collections of top-quality art made by those of Cuban heritage wherever they live.

“Previously, Cintas existed as a quiet organization,” he says. “People didn’t know about us. I want to get the word out.” Cintas has increased its awards to $20,000, and former award winners have been donating better work to the collection. Deupi wants Cintas fellows to be more actively shown in exhibits around the globe, and to put the Cintas Foundation at the forefront of promoting Cuban art.


HCoverStory_7_chavez_0017avana-born Ever Chavez is not a newcomer to Miami’s cultural scene; he has been heading up FUNDarte, a presenting company, for 15 years, trying to disseminate a wide range of performances in theater, dance, and music that both reflect our region and enrich it.

It’s been a struggle to round up grants, wrangle visas, maneuver around the politics of various countries, and find appropriate and affordable local venues. But Chavez says he can detect a tipping point.

FUNDarte has now developed an audience that will support several series that have become part of the fabric of Miami-Dade’s cultural geography: the Global Cuba Fest, a joint production with one of the area’s first presenting organizations, Miami Light Project; the LGBTQ-oriented Out in the Tropics; and CLIMAKAZE, which tackles issues of the environment and climate change.

“We have a very diverse audience in age and ethnicity,” says Chavez. After wandering around various venues, today FUNDarte places 75 percent of its programming at Miami-Dade County Auditorium, using the smaller On.Stage black-box theater within the larger theater. Chavez says people are now familiar with FUNDarte programming.

“Through Culture Shock [a discounted ticketing program from the county for teenagers], we will have 18-year-olds sitting next to people over 65,” he says. “They are Anglo, black, and Latino.”

CoverStory_8_ica_0033-EditChavez thinks that the arts groups themselves have grown and built a solid base, but that the audience still has to catch up. “There’s so much going on now, the real effort is trying to get people,” to build audiences to attend your events. Unlike in the past, arts organizations from Miami are now recognized as serious co-presenters, he says. FUNDarte, for example, has working relationships with the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and the prestigious Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

FUNDarte, says Chavez, also wants to make sure it is creating a fertile ground by commissioning original works: “We’re about producing [as well as] presenting and promoting productions.”

The scope of FUNDarte’s programming this season does seem to mirror a maturing, distinctive Miami of 2017-2018. It will bring the musical group Garifuna Collective, who have toured the U.S. and major European music festivals for the past five years, but whose commitment to social justice is rooted in the Garifuna communities scattered across Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. Locally based Carlos Caballero is also on tap, to direct Entre 2 Aguas, with actors from both Miami and Madrid. And this year’s Out in the Tropics will feature U.S. poet laureate and home-grown writer Richard Blanco.


OCoverStory_9_ica_0154-Editne of the most recent arrivals to the cultural scene is the Third Horizon Film Festival, co-founded two years ago by Jason Fitzroy Jeffers and Keisha Rae Witherspoon. Its aim is to highlight films from the Caribbean and to educate a broader community about the complex, vibrant, and also troubling history of the islands. The Caribbean, says Jeffers, “is history’s greatest unintended experiment in human cultural diversity.”

On these tiny islands, says Jeffers, the Old and the New Worlds collided. The indigenous populations were almost eradicated by conquest and disease, repopulated by slaves from Africa under the rule of Spanish, English, French, and Dutch colonizers.

And at the same time, the Caribbean will be at the forefront of the “experiment” of climate change, Jeffers says -- a statement underscored by the devastating hurricanes this fall that ravaged so much of the region.

Films reflecting all these themes were screened throughout Miami-Dade in 2016 and 2017, and last month Third Horizon was invited to produce some pop-up screenings in New Orleans. According to Jeffers, Third Horizon also wants to be involved in commissioning productions, not just showing them.

That’s a thread connecting so many of Miami’s current cultural organizations. They want to be more than presenters. They want to be creators and facilitators, nurturing new artistic expressions that will lift Miami to new heights, powered by a fresh generation of movers and shakers.

 

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