Tumbling Chairs

The people of Miami take a crash course in art, parks, and democracy

More than 350 people spent the day at a dozen or so round tables scribbling plans for Bicentennial Park. Participants were asked to sketch what they would like to see there. Planners had in mind items like shady areas and splash fountains. Instead, at table after table, someone said: How about a museum? How about two?

Not everybody was eager to pencil in Museum Park. Irby McKnight, the chair of the Overtown Advisory Board and one of the few black faces in the crowd, recalls that he resisted at first. "I wish our park could be a park," he laments. "We've given up our waterfront. We will live to regret that." But when he realized that the museum supporters at his table would prevail, he did the best he could to include his own community and extended the park's walkway up Ninth Street to the Lyric Theater in Overtown.

At the end of the charrette, the vast majority of plans called for one or more museums in the park. By Delahanty's account, there was simply a groundswell of support. Still some of the green-space enthusiasts feel the museums stacked the deck. That's another problem with democracy; whoever gets the most votes wins.

Art collector Marty Margulies is ready to fight against public funding for Miami
Rafael Salazar
Art collector Marty Margulies is ready to fight against public funding for Miami
Gillian Thomas (left) and Louise Valdes-Fauli hope the Museum of Science will leave a four-acre footprint in Bicentennial Park
Photos by Steve Satterwhite
Gillian Thomas (left) and Louise Valdes-Fauli hope the Museum of Science will leave a four-acre footprint in Bicentennial Park

"I'm in a tricky spot because I urged there to be a public process to redesign the park," admits Bayfront Park/Waterfront Renewal Committee co-chair and UM historian Greg Bush, sounding a little bit like maybe he's sorry he did. That spot got even trickier in November 2001 when 57 percent of the city's voters passed the Homeland Security bond issue in the wake of 9/11, authorizing among other things $10 million for Bicentennial Park and $3.5 million for each museum (as long as the museums match every city dollar with three dollars of their own). His spot got trickier still in July 2002 when the city commission passed a resolution designating Museum Park Miami the "official design vision for Bicentennial Park" and proposing to lease the museums four acres each. "I frankly think there should be some significant paybacks from the museums [in exchange for the land]," Bush wriggles. "I personally would like to have them help oversee the upkeep of the park. I want to make sure that what remains of the park is really beautiful and well landscaped."

But if Bush concedes victory to the museums on the park's design, he's not about to roll over on public funding for the buildings. "The question is, how much money?" Bush asks. "What is the public buying into? Rather than bowing down and saying an art museum is great, we should open our wallets, there should be broad public debate about the spending of public money and the value of certain institutions."

Dan Paul doesn't need any further debate. "I am unalterably opposed," he states. "I never thought I'd have to fight organizations that I thought were on our side in preserving the waterfront. The land is too small for two museums and even one museum will block the view." Is a Stop the Museum campaign next? "They [the museums] don't have any money to do anything," Paul shrugs. "No point in spinning our wheels for nothing."

In logic, that which is unnecessary is also useless. These words glow green in neon script in the Wynwood warehouse that holds the impressive Margulies Collection of art collector and real estate developer Marty Margulies. The piece, by celebrated conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth, is one of more than 2000 pieces Margulies has amassed since the 1970s, roughly ten times the size of the permanent collection currently owned by MAM. Margulies opens the doors to his collection every Friday and Saturday in a building he paid for entirely by himself. He doesn't know why MAM, with its puny collection, should pass the bill for a building on to the public.

"Long after Johnny Winton is gone," Margulies gripes, "people in this community will be paying for these facilities."

Solidly built, like a bulldog, Margulies has the intense stare of the hard of hearing (a condition that runs in his family). He built his collection the same cautious way he builds luxury condos and shopping malls: Start with a sound foundation, then add one floor on top of the next. When he sees a problem, he likes to solve it.

Like kids living in poverty in Overtown. Looking out his car window, Margulies realized there was no one to give those youngsters hanging around on the street all the privileges he gave his own kids. So the developer shelled out $2.5 million of his own money to build the Overtown Youth Center, with a basketball court, a computer center, and of course a studio for art classes. "I feel I want to help the downtrodden, underprivileged people," Margulies says, in the same practical tone he might use to order another load of cement. "The government doesn't give them a break."

So when Margulies can't get the answers he wants about MAM in Bicentennial Park, he calls a town meeting of his own this past March 25. Dan Paul shows up to point out that the plan for Museum Park has no parking. There's also a stray downtown developer who doesn't know anything about art, but knows what he likes when his property values go up. Otherwise the crowd is made up of art lovers: artists, art critics, museum folks, and a few very wealthy individuals with immense private collections like Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz and Mitchell Wolfson. The topic is no longer what is the best design for Bicentennial Park, but whether or not Museum Park is the best next step for the visual arts in Miami. To each constituency, its own debate.

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