ArtPlace Grants Bring Public Installations, Business Collaborations, and Education Programs to Miami's Arts Scene

It's a good time to be an artist in Miami. First, Americans for the Arts announced that Miami-Dade county spent upwards of $1 billion on cultural events in 2010. And now, it's looking like that number will only increase in the coming years.

ArtPlace, a philanthropic collaboration between the National Endowment for the Arts, the Knight Foundation, and various other monied organizations, has awarded grants totaling $745,000 to members of Miami's creative set.

Miami Beach's Bass Museum of Art, the Wynwood Arts District Association (WADA), and the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse are the lucky recipients of these earmarked dollars. And because the funds were granted to projects aiming to bring art out of the museums and into the community, the whopping award amount is one that could fundamentally affect the development of Miami -- not just the arts community, but the city itself.

According to ArtPlace Director Carol Coletta, the organization is

interested in Miami's art scene potential due in large part to our

cultural risk-taking.

"Like the city itself, the Miami art scene is dynamic, contemporary, boundary-crossing. What's exciting about Miami is that it's always reinventing everything we think we know about culture. These projects exemplify that spirit."

This isn't ArtPlace's first investment in our community. They also funded the César Pelli-drawn master plan for New Town Square.

These most recent grants are designed to stimulate our artistic community and improve the landscape for artists and laymen alike. The largest of the grants ($385,000) was awarded to The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, a concept by Miami Light Project. The funds will be used to support the final stages of development for their 12,000 square foot multidisciplinary cultural center, as well as fund several upcoming projects.

The org (founded in 1989) has already completed a year of programming in their new Wynwood-based artistic hub, but managing producer Rebecca Lengel says it will use some of the funds to finalize the build including adding new high-tech equipment. In addition, they plan to roll out a technical theater fellowship program for students, as well as artistic residency programs for Miami-based performing artists. These programs should kick off at the end of the summer, right before the group launches their 2012-2013 season in October.

Lengel believes the Light Box was chosen based in large part on its track record of artistic programming and community outreach. "We keep ticket prices low in order to remove financial barriers for audiences, and we provide an opportunity for artists to interact with other artists."

The Bass Museum of Art received $225,000 for its "TC: Temporary Contemporary" project, a public endeavor where artists will bring temporary installations to the City Center/Arts District on South Beach. The program is designed to place outdoor art in public places, engaging passers-by. "Sculpture, murals, sound installations, video, and other interactive works of art" will be featured in these displays.

One such display, a "sound sculpture" is already in place in Collins Park. It features Berlin-based artist Susan Philipsz singing a devotional song from the 1973 musical Godspell. This project will be followed by others, including interactive chess tables by Miami-based artist Jim Drain and a large-scale wall mural by Puerto Rican artist Michael Linares. (The Bass wouldn't tell us exactly when or where the next installations will take place, preferring instead to "[maintain] the spontaneity of stumbling upon art.")

"Excellent art doesn't just belong inside a museum," said Silvia Karman Cubiñá, Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Bass Museum of Art. "We're looking forward to presenting works of art on a sidewalk, under a tree, in a park, on the street, near a beach, etc."

Lastly, the Wynwood Arts District Association (WADA) received $140,000 to help improve the area's safety and to establish Wynwood as Miami's ultimate arts community. Since its inception, WADA has used funds to install private security and hire women from a local homeless shelter to clean the streets. But at times, the association has run short on cash and been forced to suspend its programs.

With funds in place, WADA's next step is to create a Business Improvement District (BID), a defined area within Wynwood where included businesses contribute funds to further the development of the surrounding community. Right now, says David Lombardi, President of Lombardi Properties and a key member of WADA, the association is assembling a committee made up of approximately 10 area property owners, who'll determine the dimensions of the BID and its goals. From there, he says, they can move on to improvements like new lighting plans, new streetscapes, and more branding signage leading into the neighborhood.

Lombardi stresses that this milestone demonstrates how far Wynwood has come in terms of credibility.

"It's incredible how legit Wynwood has become. Just three or four years ago, trying to convince people they should be in Wynwood was like trying to convince people they should have the clap. But they all get it now, and they've all fallen in line."

According to Coletta, the criteria used to determine ArtPlace's grant recipients included analyzing each project's potential to drive vibrancy, produce important insights into the work of creative placemaking, and operate as part of a portfolio of strategies to transform communities.

In the long run, the projects' effectiveness will be graded based on a series of metrics to be released in September. Coletta says these "Vibrancy Indicators," as ArtPlace calls them, "will measure changes over time in the people in the places ArtPlace invests, the activity in those places, and the value created in those places."

We hope Miami shines bright. Our communities have endless potential. But as Lombardi adds, "This community building is not for the weak."

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