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Feb 23rd
Bakehouse, Reinvigorated PDF Print E-mail
Written by Anne Tschida, BT Arts Editor   
February 2019

One of Miami’s original art centers takes a refresher

TArtFeature_1he Bakehouse Art Complex has a fresh coating of paint -- red, blue, and yellow -- nice bold primary colors that, in a sense, announce its re-entry as a player in Miami’s art scene.

It’s a welcome and needed boost to a community that is growing and building, but still has some gaps.

The Bakehouse, one of the oldest art institutions in town, is situated just to the northwest of Wynwood, at NW 32nd Street, between 5th and 6th avenues, but it has never really been on the beaten path. Founded in 1985 in a 1920s-era group of buildings that used to be a bakery (the huge grounds still hold the original silos), the mission statement says it was created “by artists for artists [to provide] coveted studio residencies, infrastructure, and community.”

Some things haven’t changed -- Miami is once again in dire need of affordable studio spaces, an essential element for attracting and keeping talent.

Artists have traditionally been at the whim of developers, who offer up discounted and even free spaces to them in order to make a gentrifying area more desirable and hip, which in turn is supposed to attract more well-heeled businesses. But those discounted spaces are now few and far between as real estate is at a premium all across urban Miami.

Institutions like Bakehouse are needed more than ever to support arts for art’s sake, not as a stopgap measure on the way to new high-rises. To be clear, Bakehouse never went away and has always housed artist studios, but like most institutions -- and not just in Miami -- it needed refreshing.

ArtFeature_2Last March one of the area’s foremost arts leaders, Cathy Leff, stepped in to help with that coat of fresh paint. With a diverse background that includes founding director of the Wolfsonian Museum-FIU and a decade at the City of Miami’s Community Development Department in the 1970s and ’80s (when the city facilitated the grant that let Bakehouse acquire its site), Leff says she more or less backed into her current position as Bakehouse’s interim manager. But as she shows off the two-story complex, she is energized by the mission to forge “a future vision” and to find new ways to “maximize” the 2.3-acre site.

And the site is impressively large, with ample indoor and outdoor space, some of which is indeed underutilized and unfilled. But this size allows for a broad range of disciplines that can be housed here. For instance, there are a number of outdoor studios, ideal for woodworking and other practices that may involve machinery or permeating odors.

But because of somewhat lackluster fundraising, Bakehouse had fallen behind in a core mission to make these studios affordable to artists, says Leff, relying on the fallback -- and detrimental -- money-maker of raising rents.

“We need to attract and retain artists,” says Leff, about not just the complex, but the area more generally. “That will be Miami’s success, and we have a problem.”

ArtFeature_3The roster of Bakehouse residents was also getting, well, a little stale, with not enough turnover and, maybe more important, a weak mixture of emerging and emerged artists. Leff says she wants to see more established artists interacting in the complex, serving as mentors and inspiration for up-and-comers.

Leff says she began trying to fill up the studios with artists whose names appeared on two or more lists she had solicited from curators and directors: “Then I interviewed them, [with an eye] on both mature and emerging artists.”

She also decided to cut back on exhibitions from outside the Bakehouse community, at least for the time being, viewing those as nonessential to the development of internal communality at the Bakehouse. Instead, she is letting artists make their own mini exhibits on the walls and smaller empty spaces. “The plan is to get people out of the studios, to test an idea.”

The first bigger exhibit of Bakehouse artists, curated by 17-year-old Quinn Harrelson, opened in early November and runs through March. Called “Collectivity,” it features some of the newly recruited “emerged” resident artists -- Domingo Castillo, Robert Chambers, and Christina Pettersson -- alongside names not yet so prominent.

ArtFeature_4Chambers’s work, Gretzel, was a conceptual piece composed of 200 bales of hay -- was because the hay has since been donated to starving and abused horses. Castillo contributed an audio work. The ever eclectic Pettersson made a garden out of the coontie plant, grown for millennia by native populations for its starch, to make bread -- wheat doesn’t do well in Florida. For some reason, the FDA banned use of coontie’s commercial name -- Florida Arrowroot -- in 1925, the same year the Bakehouse opened and manufactured bread from non-native plants.

Up now as well is “The Whole Earth Is a Shrine Is an Altar,” photographs by Jacqueline Gomez, part of a project documenting native Tequesta culture.

Leff has organized dinners, talks, and movie nights to promote interaction among the residents, and there will still be open studio nights every few months.

Walking through the complex recently, the refreshed mix seems palpable. There are artists who have been there for a number of years, including Cuba native Sandra Ramos, who splits her time between here and the island, and whose work reflects the fraught relationship between the two cultures.

Next to Ramos’s studio in the courtyard is a photography shop run by Roberto Matta, which interacts with the broader neighborhood by serving as a teaching space for young local students and photographers wanting to learn the craft, hone their skills, and build portfolios.

ArtFeature_5Troy Simmons, a native of east Texas, stands under an awning in front of his outdoor studio, working with lumber. He has a piece made from sections of the Bakehouse roof ripped off during Hurricane Irma; and one of a Texas plant surrounding some pillars, both supporting the structure and in the end strangling its host -- kind of like humans, he says.

Upstairs, well-known artist and art activist Adler Guerrier has recently moved into a spacious studio.

Adding to the blend are ceramicists, painters, sculptors, and performance artists, as well as print and kiln facilities.

Leff stresses that community engagement needs to spread beyond the confines of the Bakehouse complex to the surrounding working-class neighborhood that escaped the rapid and, some would say, out-of-control development of Wynwood to the east, making art a part of the entire area’s DNA.

Her vision includes a broader impact on Miami’s art scene as a whole. “We should be a connective tissue,” says Leff. And that tissue begins with a healthy, talent-rich base of artists, supported by governmental, public, and private organizations, and core creative centers -- like the Bakehouse.

 

Feedback: letters @biscaynetimes.com

 

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