Losing our cultural touchstones



There’s word that Miami is losing two more distinct pillars of culture. In a city where its authentic culture is desperately trying to find a niche in an increasingly commercial, ever-changing landscape, the news that the Van Dyke Café on Lincoln Road and PAX (Performing Arts Exchange) in Little Havana are closing their doors highlights the struggle that has been going on here for nearly half a century between nurturing homegrown culture and the demands of commerce. Both places have fallen prey to the escalating value of land, which translates into higher rents.

Make no mistake, the fact that real-estate prices continue to rise in Miami and Miami Beach is a healthy sign for our economy. However, the tradeoff, in terms of the costs of what we lose in the “upsell” can sometimes be insurmountable.

Art space in South Florida is growing scarcer. Miami is, bar none, the most exciting place in America. It is a city where the indomitable American spirit of independence is reinvented and reinvigorated evey day — where cultural identity is constantly being redefined and where amazingly talented and determined creators and promoters of art manage to craft and develop tasteful, unsanctioned (by mainstream media and industry) ideas.

We’re also a city that is and has always been dependent on visitors that come here to bask in our blissful weather. Everything’s always been for sale here (or at least for rent). We are a town that accommodates, and thus there is a strong mercantile culture of hospitality — where the wishes and notions of customers, visitors and outsiders’ trump those of natives.

Roxanne Scalia, PAX’s owner, has been promoting art of one form or another in Miami for some time. She is a steadfast believer in the transformative, unifying and educational power of music and thus poured her soul into creating a space where local music and art was properly presented and showcased. PAX, like its owner, was always welcoming and unpretentious. Scalia also possesses a keen sense for good music and appreciates how magnificent local artists are.

I use the term “local” to specify geography not to minimize scope or value of work as it is sometimes unfortunately used by carpetbaggers or self-loathing natives who need their culture to be part of themed festivals officially sponsored by corporate brands.

The stage at PAX expanded the musical palette in Miami allowing talented acts such as the Spam All Stars, Locos Por Juana, Palo, Suenalo and Elastic Bond to explore a fusion of sound that has become the soundtrack of this city.

“It’s a sad day when a venue like PAX closes,” Juan Turros, Suenalo’s funky sax player said. “PAX was a place where Miami music was shaped because Roxanne allowed us all to come there and express ourselves candidly,” he expanded.

“There was no pretense at PAX. It was the funkiest music lab you’ve ever seen/heard,” said Steve Roitstein, leader of Afro Cuban Funk band Palo, in an email.

On the corner of Lincoln Road and Jefferson Avenue, the Van Dyke Café provided the famed Miami Beach pedestrian thoroughfare with the distinct cachet that South Beach mythology was built on. Whether you took in the inimitable, gospel brunch with Maryel Epps or you grooved past midnight with the enchanting sounds of singers like Raul Midon, the Van Dyke provided a terrific respite from the syncopated, homogenous trance sounds that have overtaken most South Beach nightspots.

For the past two decades, the Van Dyke was a happy intersection of natives and visitors — an oasis from the increasing sameness that slowly but surely, is stripping the Beach of its charm.

Every time an authentic live, local music venue closes we grow further from our memories.

We enter 2014, two noted stages fewer, depriving us all of two spaces where we soaked in authentic, cultural experiences that better defined us as Miamians.

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Miami Herald

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