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The Kiwanis Club of Little Havana depended on Calle Ocho to sustain its year-round efforts.EXPAND
The Kiwanis Club of Little Havana depended on Calle Ocho to sustain its year-round efforts.
Photo by Karli Evans

Miami’s Arts Organizations Adjust to Their New Normal

The Kiwanis Club of Little Havana, a vital resource for the city's underserved youth, runs two of the largest events of every Miami winter: Carnaval Miami, known as the largest Hispanic festival in the nation; and the Calle Ocho Music Festival. Jorge Fernandez, the club's president, estimates the revenue from those two gatherings alone funds more than 80 percent of the organization's youth programs annually.

This year, although Carnaval Miami took place as scheduled in early March, revenues suffered because people had already begun to avoid large groups to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. "Usually in liquor sales, we make over $100,000, and that was reduced considerably," Fernandez says. Other events within Carnaval, such as the food and wine festival Cork & Fork, also saw much lower attendance.

The situation grew much worse when the Calle Ocho Music Festival, initially scheduled for March 15, was canceled. That move meant losing all of the expected revenue from the event, which usually brings in about half a million dollars for the organization, which uses the funds to sustain its youth services for much of the rest of the year. Now, without that money, the club's programming — which includes after-school activities, scholarships, and health-related financial assistance — is in jeopardy.

The club has only seven full-time staff members at its office and also relies on an extensive network of volunteers and subcontractors. One employee has already been let go because of the financial impact of the crisis. A scheduled soccer tournament has been postponed, and the club is not yet sure what will become of its youth summer camp, which typically serves more than 200 kids.

"At this point, everything is on hold until we know what's going to happen to our finances," Fernandez says.

The playwright George Bernard Shaw once wrote, "Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable."

The Institute of Contemporary Art Miami has moved its programming and exhibitions online.
The Institute of Contemporary Art Miami has moved its programming and exhibitions online.
Photo by Iwan Baan

The arts are a big part of what makes the Magic City so vibrant, and they provide free education and programming for countless communities that need it. As many local arts and culture organizations have closed during the coronavirus crisis, Miamians are questioning how people will experience art during this time and how these organizations, many of which are nonprofits, will stay afloat. Like the Kiwanis Club, most face financial losses and are trying to devise creative ways to serve their communities.

"Artists contribute so much to our world and help us to unlock our own creative imagination," says Johann Zietsman, president and CEO of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. "We need to keep them in mind and make sure to support them now and when things improve."

For museums, the financial hit of closing can be considerable. The president and chief executive of the American Alliance of Museums recently told the New York Times that approximately a third of American museums were already in debt or close to it before the pandemic. "Three-quarters have now closed, and one-third will not reopen if the crisis continues," she told the Times.

For now, Miami's museums are channeling their efforts into helping people engage with artwork from afar. The Bass now offers virtual tours of select exhibits on its website, shares daily "Cafecito Break" posts on social media at 3:05 p.m., and is working to expand its Instagram-only gallery, @TheBassSquared. Launched in 2019, it began as an attempt to make art more accessible online and to show work created for the digital realm.

"Our curators are currently investigating new ways to activate the Instagram gallery in the coming weeks as an extension of the exhibition programming, including the presentation of video works from the collection," says Silvia Karman Cubiñá, the museum's executive director.

For young art lovers, the Bass is also providing educational resources, including lesson plans, printable coloring pages, and Art Camp From Home, a replacement for their usual spring art camps.

Over the past five years, the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami (ICA) has been building a free digital archive of videos to supplement its exhibitions and programming. These days, the ICA Miami Channel is the best way to engage with everything the museum has to offer — whether it's a video of a site-specific Judy Chicago work, a dance performance, or an artist sharing the inspirations behind his or her work. The museum also plans to offer exclusive members-only content soon, and becoming a member is one of the best ways supporters can help the museum. The ICA doesn't charge for admission but has still had to cancel ticketed public programming that would have brought in revenue.

"While we rely less on box office revenues than other cultural institutions, during this time, our team is working tirelessly to ensure the ongoing sustainability of our funding sources in anticipation of an economic slowdown," says Alex Gartenfeld, the ICA's artistic director.

The Arsht Center hopes to reschedule canceled performances for later this year.
The Arsht Center hopes to reschedule canceled performances for later this year.
Photo by Justin Namon

Theaters and other performance venues face similar challenges (as do the many workers employed for shows). Even one of the biggest, the Arsht Center, is preparing to make adjustments to adapt to unprecedented circumstances.

"The Arsht Center is in good financial standing, and we are optimistic that we can weather this storm," Zietsman says. "Clearly, this crisis will have a financial impact, and that may mean we will have to adapt some of our medium- and long-term plans. This is uncharted territory, so it is not clear what the long-term effects will be yet."

The Arsht hopes to be able to reschedule canceled performances. Still, in the meantime, it's collaborating with local artists to offer resources and entertainment online — for instance, guiding children in artistic projects they can complete at home.

As for the Kiwanis Club, it probably won't be able to reschedule its canceled gatherings. "It takes us a whole year to put these events together, and we're all volunteers," Fernandez explains. He hopes that the club will be able to program a new event in the fall and that the city government will step in to help Kiwanis and other struggling organizations.

"I understand the reasons for canceling the festival. It was a better decision not to have Calle Ocho because of all the people that would be in close contact with each other. At the same time, we were impacted by it, and hopefully, the city can find some ways of helping our organization," he says. "The world is undergoing an experience it never has before, so we'll have to adapt to the circumstances."

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