Is O, Miami Worth $480,000?

As The Dissident, J.J. Colagrande turns his critical eye on Miami culture. This week: O, Miami is crazy expensive, bro.

Listen, I love poetry. Contrary to popular belief, especially here in Miami, poetry is important. Poetry reflects the condition of being human. Underneath the turning leaf of truth lies poetry. Inside the creaking heart of time hides poetry.

So O, Miami, the city's kinda-sorta annual monthlong poetry festival, is a good thing for Miami. It's a positive occurrence for our community, yet another sign that our city is burgeoning with culture and teeming with potential. We are growing, for the better -- and Knight Foundation money going to projects like O, Miami is yet again leading the way.

But are you aware of how much money the Knight Foundation gave O, Miami? In 2010, O, Miami was awarded $305,000 in a Knight grant through the Engaged Communities division of Knight; and then in 2011, O, Miami was awarded a $175,000 grant through Fostering the Arts.

See also:

- Poetry Is Dead Parade: O, Miami Invites Dead Poets to Walk the Earth

- Weird Miami Bus Tour, O, Miami Edition: Naked Guys and Drug Drops in Miami Beach

- Parks and Recreation 's Megan Amram on O, Miami and "Classic Butterface" Emily Dickinson

- O, Miami's Pin Up Pop Up Poetry Exhibit Melds Graffiti and Verse

That's $480,000 in two years in Knight Foundation money for poetry. Furthermore, according to a Knight spokesperson, this grant money did not have to be matched by the grantee recipient; O, Miami did not have to raise any matching funds through donors.

That's a lot of money. You can hire 12 staff writers at the Herald for $480,000. You can hire 12 faculty professors at Miami Dade College or FIU for that kind of loot.

Can we have this conversation?

No, these aren't public funds. The Knight Foundation can spend its money as it chooses, as long as it's furthering its own goal of "[promoting] informed and engaged communities." But is dropping $480K on O, Miami the best way of achieving that goal?

The stated goal for O, Miami is for every single person in Miami-Dade to encounter a poem during the month of April. Do you think O, Miami comes anywhere near this? No way. Call up three non-hipsters and I bet two of them never even heard of O, Miami.

Of course, reaching every single Miamian is a pretty lofty goal. Exposing more Miamians to poetry is a valuable effort, even if it misses pockets of the population. But is it worth hundreds of thousands of dollars?

In 2011, I thought the inaugural O, Miami was a fail. There were some amazing ideas, but the execution seemed excessive and showy, as if Michael Bay directed the affair: There were poetry readings in rented Ferraris, poems dropped out of helicopters onto hipsters during Sweatstock, other poems dropped from a plane, like a cropduster, into an empty field, fancy barbecues out on Key Biscayne. It's easy to imagine where the Knight Foundation's funds were spent.

The highlight of the original O, Miami should have been a reading by James Franco, but the event was a total fail. The guy showed up four hours late, missed the whole event, and just signed autographs. And then you have pictures like this, which make it look like it was all good.

The current rendition of O, Miami has, blessedly, been scaled down. There are no helicopters or big explosions or rented Ferraris, although there is a zombie parade, and a plane will fly along the beach carrying a banner-poem. This year, the festival's producers appear to be focusing more on locals, orchestrating a number of events with and through local artists, dancers, musicians, poets and writers. Click here for the full list. It's a lot. There are also some big names coming through, like Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore, a very cool poet named Kevin Young, and President Obama's inauguration poet, hometown hero Richard Blanco.

The expenses this year seem to be more humble, and the producers appear to be rewarding locals, hopefully with some ducats.

O, Miami should be applauded for its sheer magnitude and quantity of events, as well as lauded for its ingenuity, creativity, and effort. But on the other hand, many of the writers the fest brings in were at the Miami Book Fair in November, many of the events could conceivably be produced for free, and the thing with poetry readings is that they're boring -- poetry is meant to be read, not heard. As far as reaching its own goal of delivering a poem to every resident in Dade -- lofty or not -- they're not even close. Unless you count those black O, Miami flyers lining city streets like Biscayne Boulevard, that is. And those are questionable. Their verses -- "I ride for / I lie for / I cry for Dade" and "No ifs, ands, or, buts, I'm from Dade" -- are Pitbull lyrics.

If you think O, Miami is worth $480,000, more power to you.

But hey, taking a good thing and looking for reasons to hate it? Now that's so Miami!

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J.J. Colagrande
Contact: J.J. Colagrande