As Miami continues its evolution into an international art destination, public art projects — organized by both private and public entities — seem to be everywhere at once. The art is used both as a tool for promotion, civic betterment and ambition, and for true aesthetic expression.
For some time, Bal Harbour Village has been changing its image from a refuge of stuffy Old Money to new, young, artistically minded means; along the way it has become an interesting cultural destination. Bal Harbour’s newest art initiative is Unscripted. Arranged by independent curator Claire Breukel (who has organized exhibitions from South Africa to Vienna) and advisors that include Hernan Bas (a nationally recognized former Miami-based artist who lives in Detroit), Unscripted recently launched with Pax Americana by Miami artist George Sanchez-Calderon.
The idea, says Carolyn Travis, executive director of tourism for Bal Harbour Village, is “to give artists that live and work here a unique platform, a Bal Harbour platform. Great art is part of what makes Dade County so desirable, and we think it’s our civic responsibility to support what’s going on in the visual arts here.”
In front of the new St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, Sanchez-Calderon has installed six-foot-tall stainless steel letters that spell out “Americana”, an homage to the Americana hotel designed by legendary architect Morris Lapidus that once occupied this site. Sanchez-Calderon’s work is an interesting post-modernist construct that addresses the American dream and the old Americana, a wistful nod to a hotel that once symbolized it.
On Founder’s Circle, in the 9700 block of Collins Avenue, Sanchez-Calderon also is installing Levittown House, a 10-by-14-foot nod to a Levittown tract house. A silk-screen photograph of an original Levittown house covers the structure, made from a prefabricated shed. The work and location are bookends of a sort: Bal Harbour was founded in 1946, and like Levittown — which launched in 1947 in Long Island — it was one of America’s first planned communities, a forerunner of the post-war housing boom that was to come. The original Levittown was a uniform mass experience; Bal Harbour is anything but.
On the mainland, Opa-locka has long struggled with poverty. But its early days were devoted to public art and whimsy as a civic construct, beginning with the historic Moorish-style Old City Hall built in 1926 by city pioneer Glenn Curtiss and devoted to the theme of The Arabian Nights. Now the city is seeking to come full circle by embracing contemporary art as an avenue of civic transformation.
For instance, the new Kings Terrace development, put together by Pinnacle Housing Group, features several art installations, including the metal sculpture Genesis by Clayton Swartz, a local artist whose work entails layered biomorphic shapes. The nonprofit Opa-locka Community Development Corp., headed by former state legislator Willie Logan, recently kicked-off a “Community Gateways” revitalization plan, with help from Miami-Dade County’s Art in Public Places program and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The idea is to turn the rough section known as “The Triangle,” formerly isolated by barricades, into Magnolia North, with art installations replacing the barriers.