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On a recent Thursday morning in his new Wynwood arts megaplex, artist Gino Tozzi is busy welding a steel beam and sweltering under a shower of blazing sparks that cloak his body like a swirl of fireflies.
When an assistant approaches, he turns off his torch and lifts the plastic mask protecting his face. "The mayor is here to see you," the assistant informs Tozzi.
The artist dusts the cinders from his apron and walks across his capacious digs to greet Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and his entourage.
Regalado is visiting Fabbrica (55 NW 36th St., Miami; fabbrica.us) — Tozzi's sprawling complex scheduled to open this December to coincide with Art Basel — to offer official support for the endeavor. The 15,000-square-foot space will house two contemporary art galleries, a recording studio, a video and photography studio, six artists-in-residency studios, an alfresco Mediterranean bistro and lounge, and an outdoor monumental sculpture garden. It is perhaps the most ambitious privately funded cultural undertaking currently underway in the area.
Fabbrica, which means "factory" in Italian, used to be Mrs. Natt's Bakery during the 1930s. Tozzi discovered a huge sign advertising the bakery painted on an interior wall and is leaving it to honor the business's history.
Tozzi and Regalado shake hands under the sign where the bakery's phone number, 3-3082, is emblazoned, reminding one of the quickly changing neighborhood's sleepy past.
"This area is booming," Regalado says. "How is your project developing?" he asks Tozzi. The artist responds that he has been encountering hiccups with the permitting process. Regalado fishes his cell phone out of his gray suit pocket and speed-dials a number. "This is our director of building and zoning," he says before passing the phone to Tozzi's project manager.
Within a few minutes, the project manager returns and tells Tozzi he has a meeting at city hall the following week to go over the plans and permits. Tozzi beams.
The arts and culture are high on his political agenda, the mayor tells New Times. When informed that a new alt-movie house is slated to open in Wynwood this month, he asks for a list of places he should visit in the area and hands over his business card. "I came to the August gallery walk a few Saturdays ago and was astonished by the amount of people, both young and old. It was incredible," he gushes. Regalado says he is committed to increasing police patrols in the area to make it safer for visitors and adds that he recently spoke to the police chief to make it a priority.
Before leaving, the mayor asks for the address of Wynwood art dealer Gary Nader, adding that the city is working with him on a monumental public sculpture project in downtown Miami for this coming Art Basel.
Tozzi can't believe his luck. "A friend of mine that knows [Mayor Regalado] told him about my project, and she called to say he was coming by and he did. I can't believe it," the 40-year-old artist grins, still scratching his close-shaved head. He says Fabbrica is accepting local artists' submissions and that he wants his space to be an incubator for Miami talent. Tozzi will inaugurate his gallery with a solo show by New York-based Cuban artist Liset Castillo, known for her stunning, larger-than-life photos of decaying civilizations created with tons of sand. The show marks her first major solo exhibit in three years.
Across town, nestled next to the I-95 overpass that housed the Mariel-era tent city, Roxanne Scalia wishes she would get such a visit from the Big Mango's political honchos. For now, she's scraping her dream together with old-fangled elbow grease and a DIY vibe.
Scalia — who is busy at her new boho music and art house, Straight 8's (335 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-640-5846; straight-8s.com), scheduled to open September 16 — says her venue will specialize in local Latin and world music and will host visual arts events and music and arts symposiums free to the public.
On a Monday night last week, the 48-year-old music buyer and mother, along with a group of friends, hangs damask wallpaper and sews curtains to cover the acoustic panels in her 2,500-square-foot music hall.
"I want this to be like a French salon, where like-minded people can come to listen to music and exchange ideas. I don't want it to be like [the] trendy spots that are popping up that just cater to the young and beautiful," the fetching brunette laughs, appearing very comfortable in her tattered Gumby-green Converse sneakers, paint-dripped jeans, and ratty T-shirt.
Along with friends that include an English professor and book and magazine editors, Scalia collages a bar with images of Botticelli's Venus and Etruscan statues. "I'm tired of sewing curtains," Scalia groans through red-rimmed eyes.
She has just finished hanging more than a dozen crystal chandeliers purchased from a Little Havana lighting store. "I went in and convinced them I would take all the old stock they had on display if they made me a good deal," she says. "I got them dirt-cheap."
Some of the bands you can expect to perform soon at her snazzy, down-home joint, which also features rotting stardust epoxy on the industrial concrete dance floor, include Bomba Estéreo, Lanzallamas Monofónica, Nova Lima, Monareta, Suenalo, and Locos por Juana. During her opening, check out the large paintings by Miami artists Sergio Garcia and Alejandro Mendoza.
Says Scalia: "I want this to become a place where people come to relax, listen to great music, and see great art and end up staying for drinks and long talks."
Another new Wynwood venue that Mayor Regalado has expressed interest in supporting is O Cinema (90 NW 29th St., Miami; 305-807-7304; o-cinema.org), located across the asphalt from the Rubell Family Collection.
The 5,000-square-foot alt-film house will feature cult and first-run flicks, an art gallery spooling bleeding-edge contemporary art vids, and an outdoor sculpture garden and lounge area.
Operated by partners Vivian Marthell and Kareem Tabsch, the big O, which seats 150, is planning "Music Movie Monday" in cahoots with Sweat Records and is working with the Borscht Film Festival to cocurate and present a midnight movie series, something that's been lacking for a long time.
"You can expect a lot of American independents, a lot of indies from Canada and the UK too," Tabsch says. In addition, classics by Godard, Truffaut, Kurosawa, and Hitchcock will be screened, as well as lesser-known features. "We want to dust off stuff that has been overlooked but amazing, like [Italian director Pier Paolo] Pasolini's Salò, or the 120 days of Sodom," he adds.
Marthell and Tabsch say Pasolini's incendiary opus, often called "the most controversial film ever made," deserves a big-screen viewing, as does Tod Browning's cult classic, Freaks.
"Lots of fucked-up S&M stuff happens in the first one, but it's still beautiful to look at," Tabsch says. "The other one deals with the life of carnies and human oddities. That movie pretty much ruined Browning's career, but it's unforgettable."
You can also expect a skull-staving dose of video art by the likes of Paul McCarthy, Bill Viola, Pipilotti Rist, Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, Jonas Mekas, Barbara Hammer, Andy Warhol, and a cast of others in the O's "Monitoring Art" project.