Florida International University

At the Frost's gorgeous new building, local kids finally have a place to channel their inner van Gogh or Warhol in a setting that invites creativity. This state-of-the-art gallery allows visitors to enjoy interactive activities designed to educate, entertain, and enhance the museum experience. The gallery boasts 13 stations, including the computer-based display "Picture Yourself," where a camera snaps an image of the user's face and reproduces it on a touch screen. Participants can then trace the contours of the face with their fingers and print the finished artwork to take home. And, best of all, entrance to the gallery and museum is free year-round.

Florida International University

The sparkling debut of Miami's first new museum in a decade was greeted with critical acclaim and thunderclaps of applause from the public when the Frost reopened its doors this past November. Designed by Yann Weymouth, the 46,000-square-foot building is a work of art that rivaled the impressive exhibits organized for the unveiling. The museum boasts a dazzling Chinese granite façade, a soaring atrium, and a floating stairwell, and features more than 10,000 square feet of exhibition space.

Inside the concave-shaped gem, galleries are bathed with natural light filtered through skylights. Its ceilings are covered with fiberglass petals that protect the art from the sun's ultraviolet rays. The Frost christened its new home with six exhibitions, including "Modern Masters from the Smithsonian," which featured 43 key paintings and sculptures by 31 of the most celebrated artists who came to maturity in the 1950s. The sprawling show examined the complex and varied nature of American abstract art in the mid-20th Century.

Add to the fresh new museum smell a bold exhibition schedule and the Steven and Dorothea Green Critics' Lecture Series, and the trek to the hinterlands becomes more of a joyous cultural pilgrimage than a headache. The museum's new Target Wednesday After-Hours programming also gives visitors the chance to engage in gallery talks, visiting artist lectures, films, live music, and performance art the first Wednesday of every month. And, unlike other local museums, admission to the Frost and its programs are free to the public.

As we enter the final, gasping, dying breaths of the newspaper era, it is nice to see there are still a few Miami Herald veterans who continue to put out insightful, probing, hard-hitting journalism. At a time when thousands of unemployed shoe leather scribes are contemplating how they're gonna turn their buyout into the next big new media adventure, guys and gals like Larry Lebowitz keep churning out news articles that leave your fingers black with ink. And his words are worth every stain, because Lebowitz knows Miami-Dade County better than the guy who has to take a Metrobus from his house in Homestead to his job in Aventura. For more than a decade, Lebowitz has produced an impressive cache of clips. When he was the Herald's court reporter, Lebowitz wrote about everything from Deerfield Beach gun smugglers doing business with the Irish Republican Army to the story of a federal judge who went after a couple of DEA agents who defied a court order barring them from using a convicted smuggler in a sting. Lebowitz has gone on to shine as the Herald's transportation guru. Through his weekly column, "Streetwise," Lebowitz takes local government officials to task by exposing the never-ending bungling of the half-penny sales tax to fund mass transit in Miami-Dade while also offering his own perspective on how to make commuting bearable in sun-soaked traffic jams. In 2007, Lebowitz was honored by the South Florida Society of Professional Journalists when he and Debbie Cenziper won the James Batten Award for Public Service Journalism and the Gene Miller Award for Investigative Reporting for the "House of Lies" series. We only hope the Herald doesn't implode so that Lebowitz can keep his job.

Photo courtesy of Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU

Did you know Florida's Jews have been kicking it old-school in the Sunshine State since 1763? With the Torah and the menorah and the dancing of the hora under swaying palm trees? No? Well, there's this nice Jewish lady over on the Beach... she or one of her helpful staff members will set you straight on the long, colorful Jewish experience in the land of alligators and orange trees. Reams of mementos, photos, oral histories, and other items are housed in the two former synagogues that compose the Jewish Museum of Florida. As well as containing an extensive permanent collection of Florida-related Judaica, the museum offers many temporary exhibits, other public functions, and help with research. You know your bubbe would want you to go, so do it already.

Thanks to the sizzling scenery that needs no translation (i.e., the sexy dancers on seemingly every show), América TeVé has plenty of viewers who don't know a lick of Spanish, but for those who can understand the language, Oscar Haza is an even greater draw. As host of A Mano Limpia, he not only dazzles the audience with his knowledge of Latin American history and politics, but also carries on conversations with the likes of Lech Walesa, John McCain, Huber Matos, and anybody who can upset the Castro brothers. Despite the obvious focus on Cuba, he's not just another "Miami Mafia" windbag. The Dominican-born journalist covers hot topics of local, national (that means U.S.), and international interest that have nothing to do with the Pearl of the Antilles. And he does it in a classy, informative way that is as entertaining as TeVé's flashier fare.

With the advent of the now ubiquitous camera phone and cheap broadband, almost anyone can become a famous photographer overnight. Well, not quite anyone. There's still this little thing called talent that isn't quite universally available yet. But Carlos Ramos definitely has it. Ramos is the shutterbug known to his many fans as Miami Fever. Day after day for the last several years, he's uploaded thousands of images that seemingly capture the city's very soul — freezing the most intimate moments in a maelstrom called Miami. Not only does Ramos give the snootiest art snobs rich images to revel in, many of his photographs also cater to the more pedestrian loves of beautiful women and expensive cars, meaning there is something for everyone to like. If Ramos continues to follow his current trajectory, he has the potential to become a photographic superstar on the level of Henri Cartier-Bresson or Garry Winogrand. Yes, he's that good.

Once you get past the nightmarish parking, no venue prepares you as perfectly — aesthetically, gastronomically, or literarily — for two hours in the theater as Ricky J. Martinez's New Theatre. The lobby is small but smartly appointed: Good local art hangs on the walls, and as often as not, there is a smiling young playwright manning the combined ticket counter and bar, selling tix, cashews, candy, and wine. Opposite the bar is a bookshelf, from which you may select and purchase several dozen scripts and works on the theater. Then you file into the theater itself, and: magic. Martinez and crew keep the lights low and sets weird — often they spill out into the audience — and in this cramped, intimate space, you feel like you've been pulled between the worlds. You could be anywhere.

While bicycle gatherings like Critical Mass make for great photo-ops, activists have to do more than just clog traffic during rush hour to affect real change. If you want lawmakers to pay attention to the needs of cyclists, you have to play by their rules. That means sitting through endless commission meetings, endless community meetings, and endless planning meetings when you'd rather play outside in the sunshine. Enter BASIC, a loosely organized group of advocates who doggedly chase local governments to include cycling in their transportation plans. They're the ones who take off their bike helmets and work through every legal roadblock to better bike access. Through their email list, BASIC members stay informed of government meetings where cycling issues might pop up. When that "critical mass" shows up to meetings, it really gets heard. So far, they've been instrumental in creating bike access, particularly bike lanes in Miami Beach, and making sure local governments don't backpedal on transportation reform. And, they still find time to join the rest of us out on the road.

This is simple arithmetic. Even with a wooden leading man, Lakme gets by on the exoticism of its Indian setting and the decadent (but tuneful!) complexities of Leo Delibes's one great opera — the silly libretto of which makes a lot of opera people dismiss the whole thing. But those people are wrong, as they would have learned if they'd seen and heard Leah Partridge in the title role at FGO. Even if she got a tidbit screechy at the end of "The Bell Song," her voice — fresh and supple as a sapling — brought a sweetness and, later, a solemnity to the role that few singers have done. Everything about this Lakme, from its sets to its bevy of talents, was oversize and overwhelming — a reminder of why it's called grand opera.

Leonard Abess ain't your typical banker. This past February, after selling his majority stake in City National Bancshares for $927 million to Spanish bank Caja Madrid, he doled out $60 million in bonuses to all his staff and 72 former employees. First, he made an online video explaining the windfall buyout of the company. A few days later, clerks distributed details of the sums deposited in the staff's payroll accounts. Abess didn't show up in person, announce his generosity to the media, or actively seek the attention his gesture provoked. But once the media found out about it and seized on the story like a pack of hungry vultures, he did the rounds and granted interviews. He explained his good deed thusly: "I just wanted to reward my employees." Abess started his career as a worker in the bank print shop, making forms and documents. He advanced through the ranks and eventually bought City National off the auction block at bankruptcy court, where it ended up after mismanagement by coffee kingpin turned escaped convict Alberto Duque. Abess developed the bank from $400 million in assets to $2.75 billion. "I saw that if the president doesn't come to work, it's not a big deal," he said. "But if the tellers don't show up, it's a serious problem." Abess, thanks for being so filthy rich that giving away $60 million is nothing to you. Next time, double it.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®