The Long and Winding Road

Flush with valuable Lincoln Road real estate and saddled with major debts, the South Florida Art Center ponders its options, its future, and its purpose

Sitting down for breakfast on a Monday morning, Gilbert is cheerful but visibly tired from the events of a busy weekend -- particularly a daylong SFAC artists' retreat held on Saturday. The new director has been holding meetings nonstop since her arrival -- with SFAC artists, with the board, with members of the community. She has seemed particularly determined not to alienate the artists from decisions about the art center's future. But today she is a bit impatient with what she calls some members' "self-serving" attitude.

"The message that I'm getting is that you're going to lose support from the artists if you're going to talk about turnover, or if you're going to talk about less studios on Lincoln Road," she explains as nearby bulldozers compete with the restaurant's classical-music-blaring sound system. "And the balance that I have to weigh that with is the long-term support of the center. Officially it would be the board who would decide what direction the art center is going to take. The role that the artists have is to nominate the board members. I think it's very important that the decision-making process be aligned to direct the organization in the way it needs to go. Right now I question that. I question whether it's aligned to further the organization. I think it may be holding it back. Certainly we're putting together a team that will look at the bylaws and make recommendations, and I think that the organization clearly needs a turnaround. I personally don't have much interest in sticking around if I'm not able to do that. So I'm going to address the things that I think need to be done and make those recommendations and make them strongly.

"I did not come here to operate a cooperative," Gilbert adds firmly, biting into a bagel. "I came here to run a community organization. This is about transforming a community, not just providing real estate for a limited set of individuals."

Later, over at the Lincoln Road Cafe, artist Carlos Alves answers his cellular phone and makes preliminary plans with an SFAC staffer for an artists' barbecue at his Ocean Drive apartment. Then his friend Sid Smith, an artist turned massage therapist, pulls up a chair, and the two turn to reminiscing about the mid-Eighties on South Beach, when, as Smith puts it, "You could shoot a gun down Lincoln Road and the only thing you could hit was a garbage can -- or a rat."

Alves says that he -- like most long-term resident artists -- has always been against selling any of the organization's property. But, he concedes, "Things have changed and we'll have to change with them. Something has become a cancer, and if we have to cut off an arm to save the body, we'll do it."

Alves quietly sips his coffee for a moment, then puts his cup down hard. "I think we want it all," he says, rising to pay his check. "Why shouldn't we? We've been here long enough.

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