2015 in Miami Culture: From Ultra to ICA

Magnus Sodamin
Magnus Sodamin
Photography by Steven Borja / Courtesy of the artist and and Primary Projects

This year saw mass upheavals in Miami's cultural landscape: Most of the established museums named new directors, an historic center closed its doors, a new institution broke ground on sprawling digs, and galleries flocked from Wynwood in search of cheaper rent. The death of the cofounder of the city's biggest music festival began the year — just a couple months before the fest dominated downtown.

Yet the city continues to establish itself as a world center for art and culture. With a strong Art Basel season, an influx of high-end brands to the Design District, and promising local artists making their mark, the Magic City's cultural scene is building a foundation that will soon enable Miami to rank with San Francisco and New York.

The biggest stories of the year broke almost as soon as the Big Orange peaked.

Gallery Diet's new Little River home.EXPAND
Gallery Diet's new Little River home.
Photo by Monica McGivern

1. Galleries flock out of Wynwood. The artists and galleries that pioneered Wynwood as an art mecca are being replaced by boutiques and juice bars. Seeking cheaper rent, Guccivuitton, Mindy Solomon, Emerson Dorsch, and, most recently, Diet Gallery have all moved to Little Haiti, Little River, or Allapattah. The shift came with some significant pushback from those areas' residents, fearful of being displaced by interlopers with no real connection to the neighborhoods.

"In the midst of this beautiful international art bonanza, in Little Haiti a different story has emerged," says Marleine Bastien, executive director of Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami, which organized a demonstration in protest of the recent openings. "This is the story of businesses and homeowners being pressured and threatened one minute, sweet-talked to sell their homes the next. They're being offered two, three times the property [value] of their homes to get out. Gentrification is here, baby."

Franklin Sirmans. PAMM's new man.EXPAND
Franklin Sirmans. PAMM's new man.
Courtesy of Pérez Art Museum Miami

2. PAMM, ICA, and the Wolfsonian name new directors. After spending just five years at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, art-world rock star Franklin Sirmans was named Thom Collins' successor at Pérez Art Museum Miami. Sirmans took over curatorial duties in mid-October with plans to bring the institution into closer contact with its environment by highlighting Latin American and Caribbean artists.

Miami's newest museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), brought in Ellen Salpeter, formerly of the Jewish Museum in New York, to helm the nascent institution. Following in ICA's footsteps, the Wolfsonian-FIU imported the former director of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Timothy Rodgers, as new director.

3. Ultra cofounder Alex Omes dies as the music fest continues to grow. Just as 2015 began, Ultra cofounder Alex Omes was preparing to go to court to claim some profits from the megasuccessful yearly music festival. Then he turned up dead, with a baggie of cocaine by his bedside. A couple of months later, the annual downtown musical extravaganza returned as an 18-and-older event, drawing thousands of attendees and earning millions of dollars with some astounding acts. Though a Scottish visitor died after allegedly attending the event, no one is calling for its cancellation, as Miami Mayor Manny Diaz did just a few years ago. Ultra has become part of our cultural landscape.

4. The Design District comes to life. Slowly but surely, the fledgling Design District has come to life. Hermès, Loewe, and Cartier set up shop just blocks from one another. The multistory Hermès store opened with a rumored million-dollar bash in Wynwood and an elaborate parade on its main thoroughfare. Though the high price points at most of these stores are out of many locals' reach, the Design District has worked with artists and collaborators outside the world of designer goods to make the nascent neighborhood not only glitzy but also accessible.

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