In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Art Basel visitors should chip in to Miami’s future

Miami deserves an iconic Museum Park in its downtown.

Not the scaled-down $10 million version of recessionary times in the works, but the grand $68 million waterfront grounds approved by the City Commission more than four years ago.

The original vision featured a stately, artful entrance of royal palms jutting out of a shadow pool, lush gardens, an underground parking garage and a restaurant, but those more expensive elements have been scrapped.

Instead, the 20-acre park at the old Bicentennial Park site that will flank the multimillion-dollar art and science museums slated to open in 2013 and 2014, respectively, will feature minimalist green spaces and simplified versions of a waterfront boardwalk and a promenade from Biscayne Boulevard to provide pedestrian access.

City officials promise the park will be “aesthetically pleasing,” but it won’t have much of that only-in-Miami identity and wow factor — our tropical version of the grandeur of Millennium or Central Park — that the city was seeking when it paid the New York firm of Cooper Robertson & Partners $4.2 million for design plans.

We dream big and plan even bigger during boom times, paying handsomely for a blueprint, then falling short on execution after the bubble bursts.

I bring this up because it’s the perfect time to have this conversation.

The 11th edition of Art Basel Miami Beach opens at the Miami Beach Convention Center Wednesday morning, when the world’s top art collectors will be waiting at the doors with great anticipation for a “first-choice” bid at the finest contemporary art in the world.

These are for the most part people with deep pockets who can make things happen in any town — and it’s their presence here that has served as a catalyst for the unique model of an art city and cultural destination that Miami has become.

Some of these collectors have bought property here in recent years (at bargain prices, I should add) and are part-time residents.

Is it not time for them to step up their contribution, invest in projects like Museum Park where our public dollars just can’t go that far and help take Miami to the next level?

This has become, after all, their town too.

I talked to people in the art world who quickly reminded me to be mindful of art-world etiquette: On this one week out of the year, we’re supposed to remain graceful and grateful hosts.

“The fair is not primarily about the city,” collector Dennis Scholl, who is on the Basel host committee, tells me. “We get the collateral benefits that trickle all the way to our artists, and that has been a catalyst for this cultural awakening.”

Scholl names the Arsht Performing Arts Center, the new Miami Art Museum and Science Museum under construction and their chief benefactors, all post-Basel creations, and adds: “To see the collateral effect of being hosts to Art Basel, all I have to do is look out my window.”

Call me an impatient Miamian, but isn’t it time we asked for more commitment and contribution?

When New York’s New Museum was in the making, they sought Art Basel Miami Beach as an opportunity to fundraise — and they staged quite a successful event here for those purposes. Why can’t we make a case before the same crowd when Art Basel would greatly benefit from Museum Park being all that it can be?

Sure, we’re a young city and we’ve come far in a short time — and we do have generous, homegrown arts patrons and foundations funding the new museum construction as they did the performing arts center — but I think it’s time for people who use Miami as a gateway or a getaway to show a little more tangible love.

Miami is a city of newcomers — poor and wealthy and in-between — but to truly be the global city we’re destined to be we need to build a conscience that those who play here also should leave their mark beyond purchasing a pied à terre.

Be it with an artful park bench, a set of royal palms, a shadow pool or the donation to our museums of one of the pricey Warhols hanging at the convention center, the Basel crowd can make a significant contribution.

And now that I’ve said what many are thinking and wishing, let’s all revel in the overdose of art.


Read more Art Basel stories from the Miami Herald

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