Greater Miami’s conversion from the land of sand and sunburns into the cosmopolitan, cultured and progressive region has been part art, part science, part smart policy and some incredible luck. This week, the emphasis is on the art, in a big way.
Art Basel is back, and it has brought with it far more than a week of jammed-packed hotel rooms; crates of art unloaded at the Miami Beach Convention Center and dress-up parties.
On the mainland, Wynwood galleries are ready to host hordes of art-lovers, and the Midtown tents of satellite art fairs have risen — and with them greater Miami’s fortunes.
Art Basel may have started as an art fair 12 years ago that, eventually brought thousands of well-heeled connoisseurs ready to buy brand names and lesser-known artists looking for a bit of the spotlight — and sales potential. But upping the culture quotient for just a few days each year has been just one of the assets Basel has provided.
As always, after all the fanfare, Basel will leave town until next year. But it will have left even greater dividends for this community: The Perez Art Museum Miami, opening this week and created from developer Jorge Perez’s selfless $40 million donation of art and funding, is poised to electrify the art world; Wynwood is transitioning into a neighborhood of galleries, restaurants, shops for seekers of the quirky — and a gun shop (!); the Design District has gone high-end. Without 12 years of Basel, and the diversity of people it lured to South Florida, there is little doubt that the there would have been far less impetus — and vision — to capitalize on the region’s good fortune.
The ripple effect of this, Art Week, has extended further than the infusion of culture. Commerce, entrepreneurship and urban revitalization have been among the still-increasing payoffs.
For instance, in Miami, a section of Bicentennial Park stood fallow for years, unvisited by few but homeless people and a scary, walled-off place for most everyone else. It was a waste of beautiful bayfront land, owned by city taxpayers who wouldn’t set foot on it. Now, the Perez art museum, along with the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, to open in 2015 — will turn the park into a showcase to which people will flock. Wynwood was a once-humming-then-abandoned neighborhood of factories and warehouses. With vision from the late developer Tony Goldman, the murals of the Wynwood Walls have made the area a destination. Again, there was pressure to have it all ready by Basel 2009. In addition, Wynwood has attracted the entrepreneurs of Miami’s burgeoning tech community, who will make this region a cradle of innovation.
Similarly, Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz astutely timed the opening of their Design District museum to Basel 2009.
Over the years, Art Basel has also spawned a boomlet of development looking to house those same well-heeled, international art lovers who can pay millions to stay warm in the winter.
So much of this economic propulsion has been fueled by private visionaries and investors. And municipal leaders have done a good job of facilitating this smart growth.
The other reality is, however, that poverty remains ever present. How will our leaders use the revenue created by this and other events to alleviate what still plagues too many families in greater Miami?
With so much potential, South Florida should remain focused on ensuring everyone gets to share in the bounty.