Downtown Miami is embracing the redevelopment model that helped changed South Beach, the Design District and Wynwood: Offer working spaces for artists at little or no rent, and eventually, more profitable tenants will follow.
That’s the strategy behind DWNTWN ArtHouse, set in the 20,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by Captain Harry’s Fishing Supply. Miami Worldcenter Associates, which has more than 20 acres downtown and big plans for a massive project, owns the DWNTWN ArtHouse space. (Captain Harry’s is now at 8501 NW Seventh Ave.)
The lease arrangement for DWNTWN ArtHouse was helped by the Miami Downtown Development Authority, which has been serving as a link between artists and property owners: the DDA also publishes an Arts & Culture Guide, and recently threw down the gauntlet of culture with a weekend of exhibitions and performances celebrating “DWNTWN Art Days” early in September. (Updated information on downtown Miami art activities is available at www.dwntwnartdays.com)
Already, DWNTWN ArtHouse is home to a solid clutch of established artists. Dimensions Variable — an artist-run exhibition space operated by Frances Trombly, Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova and Adler Guerrier and formerly in the Design District — is situated amid the old sales area of Captain Harry’s. DWNTWN ArtHouse also contains Turn-Based Press, a print-making facility run by Kathleen Hudspeth and Thom Wheeler Castillo, as well as the studios of the TM Sisters, two sisters noted for their performance art. The artist couple Naomi Fisher and Jim Drain, long associated with the Design District, are on the premises as well.
This new art space is one more sign that the downtown arts scene is kicking into high gear. Long-standing spaces such as the Legal Art studio/exhibition space (figurative painter Christian Curiel will be in residence in November) have been joined by McCormick Place, a combination gallery, studio and event space. Miami-Dade College has refocused its Freedom Tower gallery to include design and renamed it the MDC Museum of Art + Design at Miami-Dade College. Overtown Music Project, which recently hosted Jazz (and a Little bit of Blues) at Jackson Soul Food, is planning more concerts and events in the neighborhood. And in late 2013, Miami Art Museum will move to its new Herzog & de Meuron building in Museum Park.
For its first exhibition at DWNTWN ArtHouse, Dimensions Variable – which is open by appointment — is presenting A Rake’s Progress, by the British artist Julie Hill. The concept is a modern spin on an 18th century satirical series of paintings by the same name by William Hogarth telling the story of a degenerate who squanders his fortune and winds up in the loony bin.
Hill’s painfully relevant exhibition about ambition and waste, commerce and its disruptions, is ideally suited to the DWNTWN ArtHouse space. The rough and raw space still looks like Captain Harry’s left an hour ago: sales offices have cheesecake posters from suppliers and signs like “Whether I’m right or wrong, I’m still the captain.”
On the dirty linoleum floor are scattered letters offering credit cards and slogans that promise moneyed bliss: “You are richer than you think….The future is yours…” A display of mock credit card bills charts the perils of hubris, with charges from Louis Vuitton and the “Girls from Paradise” escort service, followed by the inevitable letters demanding payment. Even at 30, Hill has a certain historical perspective, “Even though we don’t have debtor’s prisons anymore, not much has changed since Hogarth’s day, has it?”