Portraits for the People at Sketchy Miami

Sketchy Miami is out for your face. This pen and paper project was launched earlier this year by Beached Miami, a website which self-describes as "Miami's top independent culture blog."

To meet their goal of sketching every person in Miami, people are encouraged to send their photos to the site and both artists and those who fancy themselves as such whip up a likeness that's uploaded to the web. Last night Sketchy hosted their second event where artists and subjects met face to face for some "artistic" action. (See the full slideshow here.)

The whole affair went down at the Bakehouse Art Complex, which provides artists with affordable studio exhibition spaces. Those sketching and etching -- yes, one lady carved portraits out of wood -- were set up along the weaving hallways of the residence. Artists both volunteered themselves or were asked to participate.

Alan Gutierrez acted as a sketcher at the first affair. He said, "Sketchy parties provide a way for typical non-art goers to become engaged with the artistic community at a more direct level." Though many of the artists appeared to have talent, much of the party was reminiscent of what the Wynwood Art Walk has become since food trucks moved in: more about commerce than about creating or participating in a veritable arts community. (Read our "July Art Walk: More of a Chore Than an Event.")

During the first event, those sitting for portraits were charged $30 and the money went to the artists.  Portraits were sold for $30 each with half going to artist, while the other used to support Sketchy Miami. Sketchy Packages were available for $10 and included pizza from Joey's, Honest Tea, a set of Sketchy Miami post cards, and a glass of wine and a $2 discount at O Cinema's midnight screening of Troll Hunter following the party.

For those of us without $10 to our name, it was a crowded maze of faces and for the most part, a family affair. The crowd wasn't your typical art kid, downtown crowd, it was more of a kid-kid crowd. Those who attended were an usual mix of children, people just entering adulthood, ladies who look like they work in PR, older folks, your next door neighbor, and normal twenty-somethings. The place was busy, and filled with dazed looks, smiles, and snapping cameras.

The big question about all this is... why? What's the point of this endeavor? The Sketchy website notes that it "seeks to facilitate this relationship between thousands of local artists and residents" through the "intimate" gesture of allowing someone to draw one's face, noting Miami's diversity.

Certainly, it's a good excuse for a promotional event. It can, like Alan said, introduce people not regularly involved in the arts to an artistic experience -- but so does the Coconut Grove Arts Festival. For the "top independent culture blog," it didn't speak much for Miami's growing independent arts culture. The kind of art that was being made was for fun, not for truly expanding perspectives or to critically or intellectually address anything in the world.

It's a solid marketing idea and was well executed. People participating enjoyed having their portraits drawn. It made them feel special, and that, in and of itself, is nice. People with a few bucks in their pockets looking for a place to spend it felt part of a community. Certainly, that's good for artist studios like at the Bakehouse, which with its out of the way location, can always use an increase in foot traffic.

The pretty girls collecting money didn't hurt in attracting people to participate, and though some of the DJs weren't all that spectacular, they got Hottpants who is definitely a dance master. While Sketchy Miami hosts a genial event, if the goal is to bring busy, working, "normal" people in contact with artists, it could be a little more ambitious in introducing people to high concept art. Miami not only likes a party, but it also likes a challenge.

While it is a successful interactive venture, it might be improved by adding a conceptual component, even by having a bigger purpose for being. Honesty being the best policy, Miami will never be a top cultural city if this is the best in culture that we have to offer.

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