People who work in the arts have always talked about Miami’s youth as a defining factor. Our arts groups are young, our audiences still learning to love theaters and museums, our donors still learning how to give. Our cultural immaturity is both an excuse for our shortcomings and a reason to cheer when we accomplish anything.
But we’re not quite so young anymore — more confident (if brash) young adult than eager adolescent. The New World School of the Arts, the New World Symphony and world-music presenter Rhythm Foundation all turn 25 this year, while Miami City Ballet celebrated a quarter century in 2011. The Art Center/South Florida on Lincoln Road opened in 1984, the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts launched in 1981, and, of course, Florida Grand Opera traces its roots to the 1940s.
The three most important local presenters of contemporary work, Tigertail Productions, a veteran at 32, the Miami Light Project, 24, and Miami Dade College’s MDC Live Arts, 22, have become cultural pillars. Even Locust Projects, the adventurous nonprofit gallery that pioneered the Wynwood visual arts scene, is turning 15.
These groups and others have provided a base for the cultural boom spurred by Art Basel Miami Beach, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Council. That growth has been a major boost for the community — a study by Americans for the Arts found that the economic impact of arts and culture in Miami-Dade topped $1 billion in 2010, surpassed only by New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
But the past decade has seen losses, too, from the Florida Philharmonic and Ballet Gamonet to the Coconut Grove Playhouse. And continuing economic uncertainty keeps arts groups locked in a wearying struggle for survival.
As Miami teeters between aspiration and achievement, it seems a good time to ask what the city needs to become the world-class cultural center it aspires to be.
Funding is always an issue, but the people we spoke to yearned for more intangible things: more leadership, business involvement, awareness of an already wide range of arts offerings, more focus on artistic substance and less on scene-driven excitement. And more bike paths and bus lines.
While the Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Council has maintained funding and political support in an era of government cutbacks, few major corporations call Miami home, and so lack the hometown allegiance that leads to image-building donations.
“Cities where corporations are established or have the largest footprint are most engaged in cultural philanthropy,” says Thom Collins, director of the Miami Art Museum. And, he says, those that are here don’t match their financial investment with a cultural one. “Increasingly we have big banks, big developers, who see this community as the future, and they tend to be less engaged than they should be.”
That engagement doesn’t have to be financial, says Joseph Adler, producing artistic director of GableStage, who wishes companies would encourage employees to serve on boards or provide in-kind accounting, marketing or legal services. “We need more corporations to step up in any way,” Adler says. “It’s not just about money, it’s about the guidance and counsel they can provide.”