Artists Assembly, Led by Philanthropist Carolina Garcia Jayaram, Comes to Miami

Update (May 3, 2016): Carolina Garcia Jayaram was named the new president and CEO of the National YoungArts Foundation. She will step into her new role starting June 20, 2016. "I’m extremely proud to have been chosen to advance YoungArts in realizing its indispensable mission," said Jayaram in a release.

This weekend, alumni from the United States Artist (USA) fellowship program will descend upon Miami. The Chicago-based nonprofit supports working creatives by offering grants of up to $50,000. Each year, it hosts Artists Assembly, which brings together the previous year's winners for three days. There are performances, conversations, and celebrations. It's led by its chief executive officer, Carolina Garcia Jayaram. 

The entrepreneur went to law school at the University of Miami, where she created LegalArt in 2003. That program provides legal representation for artists in exchange for artwork. Since then, she has done great things, including serving as executive director of the Chicago Arts Coalition. 

New Times sat down with Jayaram ahead of her visit to discuss the nonprofit art world, Miami, and the future of the city's thriving art scene.

New Times: When did you decide to get involved in nonprofit arts programming?
Well, I studied poetry and creative literature, and I wanted to be a writer. I worked at Harper Collins as a very junior editor, and I realized that wasn’t the right path for me. So I went to cooking school. In 1998, I found out about a job at PEN International, a writers' organization for poets, essayists, and novelists. It was a fantastic job but paid badly, as entry-level nonprofit jobs do. To make money in NYC, I started a catering company on the side. PEN had events for their writers, so I just catered the parties on the side out of my tiny Manhattan apartment.

PEN was my first real nonprofit experience. I had good fortune that soon after, my boss left. I was an entry level program coordinator and the executive director didn’t replace him so I had to jump into the role even though I was 20 years younger. I ran a program that sent incredible, high-caliber writers, like Junot Diaz, and their books into disadvantaged schools around the country. I worked with 30 schools in the country and got the see the impact of bringing an author into the classroom. It was incredible.

Why did you go to law school?
After a few years at PEN, I realized I wanted more education, and at the time arts admin masters were new. I had a background in debate, so I thought, This can only help me. I wanted to broaden my horizons, I'm entrepreneurial, so the law would allow me to create my own organization. I wanted to come to the University of Miami because they had an unusual clinical program at the time... My first year of law school as an independent study credit, I created LegalArt... I really liked the school, and my family was here — we're Cuban. 

What was the goal of LegalArt?
We started the LegalArt project as a legal aid organization. We paired attorneys in Miami with artists who needed legal representation, and bartered artwork for legal representation. So when I graduated two years later, it was a viable organization. 

How have you seen Miami's artist community change since then?
Thirteen years since LegalArt started, the community has changed in that it has become an international art community. It used to be isolated. It was more insular. Art Basel brought the world here. There were already the makings of that without Basel — you already had major collectors here and supporting local artists — but once the rest of the world came in, the first few years were important to local artists... Every city needs an interesting and robust arts ecosystem to make it a viable place for people to work in and for children to grow up in. So the fact that ballet and the Arsht Center have gotten bigger, all these things help the city in general.

Pérez Art Museum Miami is now becoming a real force in the museum world internationally. Before, it was a quiet South Florida museum. The effect it’s having is huge... The Bass Museum and Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) are also growing with new directors. This can only be great for Miami. 

How do you feel about the gentrification of Little Haiti into an art gallery destination?
Gentrification is inevitable, and it can be a very positive force. These low-income neighborhoods could and should benefit by galleries moving in and more people going to visit. It cleans up streets, makes them safe, gets broken lights fixed, roads fixed. It gives the neighborhood more attention. And it can be great for some people if they own their property — they get to sell it and make money. But then they have to leave, they have to leave a community they are connected to... Hopefully in Little Haiti, the Haitian community can work with the arts community to coexist and mutually benefit from that gentrification — but it’s happening, and historically, once that tide starts changing, it's difficult to turn it back.

What inspired the Artists Assembly?
The assembly was based around the idea that I wanted to build an alumni program with the assumption that even though some artists are incredibly successful, they might want to have a community. You tend to be isolated as an artist... It's a celebration expanding that into a three-day conference that can bring together current year's fellows and alumni of the region. Over the three days, we do a combo of excursions to know that arts community and supply leadership, and relevant panel discussions for that group of artists. 

Why did you decide to host the Assembly in Miami this year?
Miami made sense because I have so many relationships here. And I think it's an exciting time for Miami. I think they can benefit from having fellows come here, and the fellows can benefit by learning what’s going on here... so I want to expose them. 

Artists Assembly
Moderated by Carolina Garcia Jayaram. Sunday, April 17, through Tuesday, April 19. Visit unitedstatesartists.org.

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