Yet when asked to elaborate on these "different ideas," Bower is frustratingly vague, declining to single out any particular arts group. Instead she cites a personal perception that performers such as Spanish comedians and light musical operas are deemed too unsophisticated for the Beach. "If I want to see one, I have to go over to Miami," she complains. "The group here has never been open to that."
At times Bower seems unsure of just who the CAC does fund. As Kulchur begins randomly reading from the list of 2003 grantees, Bower breaks in and strenuously argues that the Wolfsonian-FIU museum "doesn't receive a dollar" from the city. Kulchur has to remind her that he's reading the CAC's own records, which explain the Wolfsonian receives an average $25,000 each year. Somewhat flustered, Bower counters, "I don't care who gets the money, as long as they all agree." And if they can't all agree? "The people who I appointed are not going to ask me who I think should get money. That's irrelevant."
Steven Caras (bottom)
If Miami Beach Commissioner Matti Bower has her
way, elitist groups such as the Miami City Ballet will no
longer dominate the city's arts funding
Ada Llerandi's own thoughts on the arts scene aren't exactly going to allay concerns that several small groups, already coping with slashed budgets, are about to be forced to pull their belts a notch tighter. "It's time the Cultural Arts Council focuses on trying to bring to the public what the public wants," Llerandi says. With the Beach now majority Hispanic, she feels its artistic offerings should reflect this new demographic. "I'd like to see us entice a lighter kind of theater in Spanish," she explains. "Why do I have to go to Coconut Grove or the Miracle Mile for that?" And don't suggest that lighter connotes schlock. "Who decides on the quality of a group?" she snaps. "If people like it, if people fill up the theater, it's quality for them! The fact that what you're doing may be liked by a little group doesn't make you the best."
To fellow CAC member and former Beach Commissioner Nancy Liebman, both Bower and Llerandi are being disingenuous. "[Bower] is putting her friends on the council," Liebman warns, adding that she intends to closely monitor this summer's grants process for any creeping political favoritism. Liebman is particularly suspicious of new appointee Lydia Resnick, known less for her arts acumen than for being the husband of developer Jimmy Resnick, whose late father Abe was for years a city commissioner and political operative.
Backroom cliques are indeed at work, agrees Bower, but it's Harvey Burstein and Nancy Liebman who need to be dragged out into the light. "These people have been fearful of me since I first came into office," she asserts. "Maybe because they think I don't know art. Maybe because I'm blunt and upfront. But when I first came in, I saw a board that perpetuated themselves, so I started to make a change.... They fought me, I became their enemy."
The Cultural Arts Council isn't the only board at which Bower is taking aim. She recalls a recent applicant to the city's Design Review Board, the body responsible for approving virtually all new development projects on Miami Beach. When Bower chose not to vote for the woman, she phoned Bower, distraught over the slight. "I told her she had to come see me before I'd consider voting for her," Bower recalls, chuckling at the woman's response: "Why do I have to meet with you? Beth Dunlop told me it was okay."
Dunlop may be the Miami Herald's respected architecture critic, but such credentials matter little to Bower. "I'm the one who votes, not Beth!" she fumes. "What the hell is this? She's a friend, but what does Beth have to do with the price of rice? Just because you know someone, you still have to work the process. That's why it's called politics."