By Ciara LaVelle
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By Kat Bein
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Before he moved to Miami to found the SoBe Institute of the Arts in 2005, Carson Kievman worked under legendary theater director and producer Joseph Papp. The founder of New York City's Public Theater commissioned Kievman to write an operatic version of Hamlet, Papp's favorite play. "I worked on that for four years, and we were about to do it at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park," Kievman remembers. "And then he got cancer and died." Kievman felt the loss deeply and abandoned his version of Hamlet. "I was completely distraught... so I placed it in my drawer, and there it stayed for 21 years."
Fast-forward to 2010, and the 60-year-old Kievman is the executive artistic director for the SoBe Institute of the Arts, a small company that presents classical music and theater events in Miami Beach. The institute had just reopened the Little Stage Theater, a historic building from 1937, after years of disuse. But the new operation couldn't survive on retro ambiance alone — it needed updated sound and lighting equipment. So Kievman applied for Miami New Times' MasterMind Award, hoping the judges would see the same potential for the space as he did. And when the awards were announced, Little Stage made the cut.
"It was certainly a great boost of positive energy for us to get that," Kievman remembers. "We had just opened... and it had been shut for many, many years, so it gave us a lot of optimism." Using the MasterMind Award funds, as well as grants from the city and other groups, the SoBe Institute of the Arts transformed the Little Stage into a fully equipped, modern theatrical venue — and the perfect place to present Papp's final commission. The show will premiere in Miami Beach in 2012, running February 23 to March 11. "And it started with the opening and the MasterMind Award," Kievman says.
For the past two years, Miami New Times has supported the city's quickly evolving art scene with the MasterMind Awards, modest grants that honor the people and projects in the community that are making the biggest impact on visual arts, music, film, and beyond. This week, the submission period for the 2012 MasterMind Awards begins, with $3,000 to be doled out to three of the area's best and brightest.
Each year, the task of selecting a handful of artists from Miami's huge and ever-changing cadre of creatives becomes more difficult. But the recognition — along with the cash — has made a lasting impact on the winners' work, their careers in the arts, and by extension, the city itself.
Take, for example, Lucas Leyva, a mid-20s Miami native who won a MasterMind in 2010 for the Borscht Film Festival. The showcase had existed in some form since 2005, growing from an exhibition by a small group of filmmakers into a diverse collection of voices reflecting the Miami experience. With the award money, Leyva says, Borscht went global. "We used it to submit the films [from the 2009 Borscht Film Festival] to other festivals. They got into Cannes, Sundance, some really cool film festivals," he says. "We wouldn't have been able to afford to submit them without the grant, so it was cool."
The 2009 films earned the respect of the communities at Cannes and Sundance, which served to legitimize Borscht among a wider audience. Now, the festival has a grant from the Knight Foundation and sponsorships from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts and from Miami-Dade County. But, he points out, "MasterMind was one of the first awards we'd ever gotten. It was nice — New Times had paid attention to us before, so it was a great way of putting their money where their mouth is, so to speak."
Borscht contributed to the success of another MasterMind winner, Jorge Rubiera, a 28-year-old from Miami who earned the prize in 2011 with short films such as Chicken Fingers and There Are Trap Doors. The award funding helped Rubiera make Birdwatchers, a tale of ill-prepared, ill-fated Spanish conquistadors, for the festival. It also gave him the confidence to finish Meniscus, a feature-length film four years in the making. "Everyone involved is working for free, and we're making this film chunk by chunk as we raise the money... I'm excited for it to be finished. But it's an awful way to make a film," Rubiera explains. The fully funded Birdwatchers, on the other hand, was shot in three days, edited in five, and screened about a week after its completion.
For Rubiera, the quick completion of the project was an affirmation of his skills as a filmmaker. "When you have a budget for a film — when you can pay for costumes and transportation and food and all these things, and you can do the hard stuff, the pre-production and planning, and you have people you can depend on as far as your actors and your crew are concerned — you can make a movie." Birdwatchers is making its way through the festival circuit, courtesy of Borscht, and Meniscus is due out in spring 2012.
The MasterMind awarded to Roofless Records in 2011 had a similar effect, allowing the label to produce higher-quality records. For example, the company recently released its first record with full-color art, a seven-inch by the Miami metal band Slashpine. "It's this great shot of one of the guys in the band wearing a cloak and it's covering his face. He's in the Everglades, and it's a really rich photo... a really intense, cool original on the cover."