Not that Arsht, who moved to Miami in 1996 to be chair of TotalBank, ever saw the city as a palm tree-lined cliché.
When I moved here, the Florida Grand Opera was flourishing, the New World Symphony was flourishing. There was already much in place. When I made my gift to the performing arts center, everybody said it was a white elephant. But now its secure. Thats a function of a city growing up.
The Knight Foundation, which was born in Ohio in 1950 and moved to Miami in 1990, has in recent years emerged as a prime mover for Miamis cultural ascension (it always operated independently of the newspapers once owned by the Knight family, including The Miami Herald). In six years, it has pledged $86 million to boost Miamis museums, performance arts groups and other cultural institutions, while also providing grants to numerous individual artists.
I keep calling whats happening in Miami a renaissance. But this isnt about a city being reborn, says the Knight Foundations Dennis Scholl, vice president/arts. Miami is still very young. We didnt have paved roads 100 years ago. What were in the middle of is a cultural enlightenment. People are attaching to the community like never before. Thats joyful.
As a young cultural center plugging away to reach true world-class status, Miami still has miles to go. The gallery scene may continue proliferating in the Wynwood area, for example, but many galleries are short-lived and the quality of their offerings can be spotty.
The city is at a tipping point. But a lot more has to happen, says Fred Snitzer, one the towns most successful art dealers, who nine years ago moved his longtime gallery from Coral Gables to Wynwood but now wants out. He recently sold his Wynwood building and is looking for a space near YoungArts.
We need to establish a visual arts MFA [masters of fine arts] program as a way to attract interesting young artists from other places, and the galleries in town need to find more rigor.
For all the buzz around gallery walks that lure hundreds of the young and hip to Wynwood monthly, its also true that some of the more serious galleries in the hood are growing wary of the carnival atmosphere, which in the end doesnt produce many sales and keeps serious collectors away.
But youthfulness is a key piece of Miamis promise, many say.
I see tremendous opportunity. I see an openness, a community that doesnt judge you by where you came from or who your parents are but rather by what you can bring to it, said Lopez of the Miami City Ballet.
For years she tried to get approval for her acclaimed dance company Morphoses to put on a flash mob performance in Manhattan. She never pulled it off. But within a few weeks of taking the helm of Miamis ballet this fall, she arranged, with help from the Knight Foundation, for a crowd of the companys dancers to suddenly bust out in a performance from Paul Taylors Piazzolla Caldera during a Wynwood gallery walk.
It was one of the most exciting moments, even of my whole career, she said. I couldnt believe the ease with which it happened. In New York, everything is too entrenched. There is just too much bureaucracy.
Stories to tell
Says Thom Collins, director of MAM: We dont have to drag old institutions into the 21st century here. We are creating institutions that are very much of this moment.
With the [flexible] design of our new museum, well be able to tell lots of stories lots of different ways.
For folks who remember the city when it was called a cultural wasteland, its seemingly overnight metamorphoses are almost dizzying.
Every time I come over the causeway from Miami Beach and I see that new skyline Im amazed, says acclaimed New York-based artist Michelle Oka Doner, a Miami Beach native whose father, Kenneth Oka, was the Beachs mayor in the late 1950s and early 60s.
We looked like a wannabe city before. Now we have critical mass. And were not an old brick-and-mortar city. Were a glass city. This is just the beginning. Were the first city of the 21st century. And were now cooking on all burners.