With a cloud of red confetti and a wailing conch shell chorus, the much-anticipated and hyped Faena District Miami Beach opened Sunday afternoon with a carnival parade that was equal parts community celebration and high-concept performance.
“Tide by Side,” as the event was called, boasted a long list of illustrious international art world creators — this was not your typical Caribbean carnival (although Cuban collective Los Carpinteros’ blessedly raucous black-feathered conga band came close). The party inaugurated Argentine developer Alan Faena’s four-block-long Faena District and the spectacular Faena Forum cultural center on Collins Avenue in mid-Miami Beach. Faena and partner Ximena Caminos promise it will deliver innovative, community-oriented programming to balance the area’s uber-luxurious hotel, shopping and condo components.
“I’m honored and amazed we delivered this place to Miami Beach and the community and the world,” said Faena, wearing a sparkly version of his trademark all-white ensemble and greeting art world eminences like curator Jeffrey Deitch at the VIP pavilion. “This is a present to the community, not just for now, but for the next generation.”
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The crowds packing the sidewalks along Collins Avenue and the various parade groups offered a cross-section of only-in-Miami culture. Poets and art critics in Venetian carnival bird masks joined veteran Haitian master drummers in pedicabs topped with glittery green and blue peacocks and shopping carts packed with gold-painted picture frames, all from Miami collective Carnival Arts. Longtime Miami artist Carlos Betancourt led a group of friends escorting his giant piñata cake sprouting bright colored cones and topped by a gold pelican, drawing cheers as it released a sky-spanning cloud of red confetti. Caminos, in red-sequined horned cap and glittering tail coat, led a snaking line of volunteers joined by a long train of webbing.
A frazzled-looking Arto Lindsay, the avant-garde musician who was one of the procession’s co-directors (the entire project was created by curator Claire Tancons, with architect Gia Wolff as the other co-director), stood in the street frantically directing bands coming from opposite directions — cheerleaders in skimpy black costumes with “Flame” across their chests popping into the air, a Haitian group blowing bamboo tubes and tin horns in boisterous carnival rara music, a marching band pumping hips and flaunting tubas.
Artist Miralda’s section on food featured giant statues of indigenous foods — an ear of corn, an alligator, a boniato, a conch — carried on an enormous metal skewer, accompanied by lines of people blowing conch shells that echoed eerily up and down the street.
“I’m Brazilian — I’m used to real carnival,” said Su O’Brien, a Miami Beach resident there with her husband and young daughter. “It’s exciting. I’m trying to figure out what all this means.”
The close-to-chaos energy was exhilarating for some art world participants. Betancourt was worried the blustery wind would topple his giant sculpture, titled “Pelican Passage.”
“This is not a sculpture in a white cube in a museum,” he said. “But for 10 years I’ve wanted to do a float. To have an object in the streets with an edge of rebellion — I love performing for all kinds of people.” As the Carpinteros conga group swept by for a second round, whooping and shaking their black-feathered tails, Betancourt and a clan of friends rushed to join them.
Organizers said that “Tide by Side” was meant to be not just a celebration, but a ritual, a way to open the district to Miami. As the parade wound down, excited clumps of people filling the street, it seemed to have worked.
“We got to work with an artist who’s done lots of amazing things,” said Isabella Matthei, 13, a Miami Arts Charter student who joined her mother and several friends in activist and community arts organizer Marianella Senatore’s slow-motion, psychedelic-disco-hippie costumed parade group. “We’re surrounded by art all the time in Miami. It’s nice to be a part of it.”