Best of Miami

Best Museums: A Historical Perspective...That Isn't Boring

We know what you are thinking: Stuffy museums descriptions in old newspaper clippings. You'd rather somebody gouge your eyes out with those tiny gelato spoons than read them. (Okay, so you probably weren't thinking that.) And normally, we might agree with you. But we are the New Times, people. We don't do anything boring. Especially not culture. Can we get a fuck yeah!

So we thought we'd warm you up for next week's 2011 Best Museum winner in our Best of Miami issue by reminding you who won over the past several years. Make the jump to learn about the best of the best when it comes to Miami museums, and watch your mouth the next time you bad-mouth Miami's cultural stock.

2010: Haitian Heritage Museum
What does the Haitian-American community do when trying to connect with its roots while away from the motherland? Build a 60,000-square-foot museum in a neighborhood with the largest Haitian population outside the island, of course. Located on the outskirts of Little Haiti, the Haitian Heritage Museum is a nonprofit organization committed to highlighting and preserving Haiti's rich culture and heritage. View the brightly colored paintings depicting scenes of agricultural workers on ox carts, and lush landscapes filled with colonial-era families frolicking under powder-blue skies, or take in the hand-carved folk art scattered across the cherry wood floors. Listen to local Haitian musicians perform on bongos and guitars, and learn about Haitian literature and Oswald Durand, dubbed the Haitian Shakespeare. Kiddies can soak up the rich culture through Ayiti Exposé, the museum's signature program that provides outreach cultural workshops to Miami-Dade County Public Schools. This is the only museum in the world outside of Haiti keeping the spirit of this courageous people alive.    

2009: Jewish Museum of Florida
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.

2008: HistoryMiami
It isn't easy being a history museum in a city that thrives on reinvention. Yes, we love our Art Deco district. The tourists do too. But  HistoryMiami, formerly the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, is working hard to give our history the attention it deserves. In the past 12 months, museum opened the Miami Circle Park on the mouth of the Miami River.  Two thousand years ago, it might have been a Tequesta chief's home, but now it will take millions of dollars to make the site the showpiece it deserves to but we're still not totally sure. That's the beauty of history. It might have passed but we keep unearthing new truths about it.. In a town where high humidity, regular hurricanes, and new waves of developers continue to wipe away the city's past, the historians at HistoryMiami know the story of Miami can't be told in one building. That is why they take to the streets and waterways with tours and cruises, reminding us that even if we just arrived here, we are now part of the tale of Miami.

2007: No Winner (It was bad year for museums!)

2006: Wings Over Miami Air Museum
Miami and air flight are both children of the Twentieth Century. With Chalk's arguably being the world's oldest airline (before it was put down, that is), and Glenn Curtiss (the Henry Ford of aviation) using his wealth to develop Miami Springs, Opa-locka, and Hialeah, one could say their histories are inextricably linked. At Wings Over Miami, which is housed at the Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport, you'll enjoy a generous sampling of vintage airplanes, like AT6s and Stearman PT-17s, many in flying condition (but don't get any ideas). The not-for-profit museum also hosts air shows several times a year, as well as other events. If the kids resist the history lesson, you can always bribe them with a model airplane from the extensive selection in the gift shop.

2005: Miami Children's Museum
Since it has been housed in a permanent location, the Miami Children's Museum has been able to turn its attention to developing a world-class educational playground for youngsters. Permanent and temporary exhibits, day camps, and classes are the main draws, but there is also an intriguing film program for budding auteurs that is perhaps the crown jewel (and boasts its own festival). Some parents have complained about the excessive branding from corporate sponsorship. That just sets up the opportunity to teach the little ones an important lesson about tuning out intrusions.

Don't forget to check in next week for this year's winner.

Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami.