Ellie Schneiderman can't seem to look at property and not think about artists -- how they populate a blighted area and eventually get driven out of their spaces when the rest of the world catches on to how hip the enclave has become. A long-time ceramist and tireless activist, Schneiderman has dealt with those unfortunate circumstances firsthand. As executive director, she established the South Florida Art Center (now known as ArtCenter/South Florida) on Lincoln Road in 1985. It was she who had the brilliant idea to use grant money to buy three buildings, thereby consolidating the Center's position and inadvertently triggering the Road's renaissance.
She left Lincoln Road to return to her life and studio in 1992, but six years later founded Miami ArtWorks in the Paseos Shopping and Entertainment mall. Twenty painters, sculptors, jewelers, potters, and illustrators enjoyed studios and gallery space on the third level, once occupied by the Miami Youth Museum. Classes for kids and adults and festive monthly openings added to the fun. That heyday lasted all of a year, when the mall was sold and converted to office space.
This past June the unstoppable Schneiderman, who lives in Coral Gables, went south for her latest venture, creating ArtSouth, a three-and-a-half-acre artists' community located on North Krome Avenue in historic downtown Homestead. The purpose is at last to provide some stability for artists (emerging and established) by offering affordable working, living, teaching, exhibiting, and sales space. Different this time: the project, a public/private venture, is permanent. Buildings won't be sold and bulldozed to make way for a Pottery Barn. Aided by developer I. Stanley Levine, with whom she worked in South Beach, they purchased five properties along two blocks, including the South Dade Baptist Church and the Green Stone Motel.
Why Homestead? "At this time in my life, I'd rather smell the roses than see the rats," chuckles Schneiderman, a mother of three and grandmother of four. "And this amazing campus could not be done anywhere else right now." At the moment the extensive grounds boast studios, classrooms, a foundry and kiln, and a 350-seat performance/visual arts exhibition space. Eventually a sculpture garden, an indoor/outdoor café, and living/working space will fill out the area. On Saturday, April 14, a grand opening celebration will feature sculpture by Juanita May; works by eight artists, showcased in their studios; art for the visually impaired made by high school students; ceramics by members of the cooperative teaching/selling facility Clayspace II; and a performance by the Herrenhauser Choir in the former church, renamed ArtSouth Sanctuary.
Sounds like a paradise. "This is my little utopia for artists," Schneiderman notes. "We have wonderful affordable space with tremendous potential for artists down here, and I would like it to be occupied by a lot of locals. But if they don't like it now, they may not be able to get in later." No fool, she has reserved a space, too. Schneiderman claims it's the first time since 1972 she has not worked on her art for almost a year, but once ArtSouth is stable she hopes to finally relax and return to making and teaching ceramics. "I'm in love with the creative process, not the product. That's the turn-on," she admits. "But this [ArtSouth] is an installation piece worth seeing, it really is, and worth feeling. It's amazing."