Burned Out

It's an awful time to be an artist in Miami. This Thursday, barring a miracle, the county commission will vote to slash $11 million in arts grants in order to help plug a $444 million budget hole.

So imagine how Michael George feels.

In June, the patron of the Performing Arts Network in North Miami watched his center — and decades of his own artwork — disappear in flames. Police recently arrested the suspected arsonist, but it's little consolation.



Unless George can scare up some grants, the music will probably stop for a space that housed 80 professional dancers and 100-plus artists. "You couldn't ask for worse timing for a tragedy like this," George says.

A painter and property owner, George opened the Performing Arts Network in 1994. At the theater in a bland strip mall on the corner of West Dixie Highway and NE 131st Street, Haitian dancers, flamenco troupes, and Irish high steppers shared the stage. Hundreds of artists used a studio in the back.

George rented out the mall's other storefronts. In 2008, Yvon Dorvil, a Haitian chef, opened an eatery called NuVo Kafé in one of them. The café burned down in November; George suspected Dorvil.

On June 4, George received a call from the fire department after 3 a.m. and drove to the theater. He found melted mirrors, blown-out front windows, and more than 400 paintings turned to ash. He estimates the financial loss around $800,000.

The next morning, George claims, Dorvil sauntered up and asked, "How does it feel to lose everything?"

Police arrested 47-year-old Dorvil on July 27 and charged him with a felony count of arson. His lawyer, David Ranck, says Dorvil never taunted George and had nothing to do with either blaze. "He's innocent," Ranck says. "Why would he burn down his own restaurant?"

George has already reopened two studios in a nearby building. But the insurance money won't be enough to renovate the scorched theater — much less replace his personal artwork.

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