AIRIE Plans to Open the National Parks' First Art Space in the Everglades

The river of grass that is the Everglades is rich in history and nature. Soon it'll also be rich in art.

The Artists in Residence in Everglades (AIRIE) program helps people explore the artsy side of the wetlands by being a hub that allows artists to live and work within the Glades' unique environment while they create their masterpieces. Sawgrass, birds, alligators, butterflies, and hundreds of other species of flora and fauna live in the Everglades and could serve as inspiration for a song, a painting, or a poem.

Now AIRIE is seeking support from the Knight Arts Foundation, an organization that has invested more than $122 million in Miami’s arts since 2005, to create AIRIE Nest, a permanent space for those artists to expose their work. When it opens, it will be the first and only art exhibition space in a national park.

“Helping people to understand the value of the Everglades and our ecosystem is incredibly important. If we can develop understanding and interest and people being inquisitive about it and leaving with understanding the importance of it, I don’t think we could have done something better,” says Victoria Rogers, vice president of the Knight Arts Foundation.

This year, Knight Arts is giving away $2.5 million in grants to programs looking to implement high-quality arts and cultural experiences throughout Miami. Of an estimated 1,000 submissions this year, AIRIE is one of 68 finalists.

“I think that [it’s about] the fact that you can visit one of our beautiful national parks, have your own opinions, and then walk through the gallery and encounter the opinion and the viewpoint of an artist, and I think the beauty of art is the way artists approach problems,” Rogers adds.

Founded in 2001, Artists in Residence in Everglades is a partner of Everglades National Park. The organization hosts ten artists every year for a one-month stay in efficiencies inside the park, where they can live and be creatively inspired by their surroundings, resulting in anything from paintings to poetry to music.

After filing for nonprofit status in 2009, AIRIE began receiving outside funding in order to continue its program and supply the artists with tools that will complement their experience.

Now the program is asking Knight Arts for $100,000 — two installments of $50,000 – in order to provide a space for the artists to use for exposure and for others who visit the Everglades to stop by and see what the program does. Knight Arts requires the grants to be matched with an equal amount of money, which AIRIE began raising early this year.

“It has been a very challenging couple of years, and we rolled up our sleeves and did the dirty work to grow," says Deborah Mitchell, executive director for AIRIE. "Therefore, it is very exciting and builds a lot of hope in us at this juncture where we have the possibility to really reach the public with... the space that is available to us in the Earnest Coe Visitor Center down at the park."

AIRIE Nest is the size of a large efficiency and is located in the Pine Island District, where it will serve as an art gallery, a meeting room, and a hub for arts-related activities between artists in residence and external artists and scientists who want to collaborate and educate visitors on aspects of nature and the animals within the park. Mitchell and AIRIE board members hope to open AIRIE Nest in time for Art Basel, which takes place December 1 through 4.

Winners will be announced November 28.

“Having a space down there would really give us that cushion," Mitchell says. "If we wanted to have a writers’ workshop in June or July, suddenly we're going to have an air-conditioned, gorgeous space with AIRIE art all around us where we can invite the public to learn more about the process.” 
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