Much like the Ishmael of old, Dimensions Variable is once again on the move. By the end of next month, after the closing of its last show — Elizabeth Withstandley’s aptly named You Can Not Be Replaced — one of Miami’s most noted alternative art spaces will permanently close at its current downtown site.
Artists Frances Trombly and Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova founded Dimensions Variable in 2009. Since then, they have moved three times. Their pending move comes at a time when public officials, artists and others making a living in the art world are exploring ways to keep artists in neighborhoods that benefit from their presence. Not only do artists serve as the vanguards who fearlessly settle in geographically undesirable areas, they tend to improve property values by adding a certain frisson that gritty neighborhoods often exude prior to gentrification.
“I really don’t want to move again,” says a road-weary Trombly, a 39-year-old weaver who is married to Rodriguez-Casanova, 42. Together they have a daughter, Penelope. The idea of packing and unpacking, as well as looking for a new space, appears daunting in the weeks before the scheduled move, slated for the end of October.
Not that they are complaining. They knew the terms going in and never expected that the arrangement would be permanent. But, Rodriguez-Casanova says, they are toying with the idea of ending their nomadic existence. “This is the fork in the road for a more stabilized structure,” he says.
Since 2013 the artist couple had been operating rent-free — a savings Rodriguez-Casanova puts at $5,000 a month — in a space known as the DWNTWN ArtHouse. Their studio — where Trombly works on two looms and her husband collects discarded items to repurpose into assemblage art — and their exhibition gallery take up half of the 20,000-square-foot space. It once housed Captain Harry’s Fishing Supply, which has been supplying local anglers with their reels and rods and other fishing needs for three decades.
Miami Worldcenter owns the property at 100 NE 11th St., south of the I-395 overpass and close enough to see the crenulated Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts peeking above the treetops. Plans call for transforming the area into a megamall complex that includes Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s stores, as well as a Marriott Hotel, 1,500 luxury residences and 3,000 parking spaces on some 28 acres located directly across from the AmericanAirlines Arena.
While the developers worked through the permitting process for their elaborate project, they allowed Dimensions Variable, Bas Fischer International and the TM Sisters to use the site rent-free. Nitin Motwani, Miami Worldcenter managing principal, elaborated on his company’s philosophy in a prepared statement.
“Miami Worldcenter has been working with the local arts community for years by supporting programs and exhibitions and providing free studio space for artists and nonprofits,” Motwani said. “We also plan to incorporate public artworks into our development. It’s critical that the downtown business community and the public sector get creative in keeping artists in the neighborhood and elevating our brand as a cultural destination. We have every intention of remaining closely involved in this process.”
The Miami Downtown Development Authority, which helped broker the deal between the artists and Miami Worldcenter, echoes Motwani’s position.
“We do feel the arts have fueled a lot of downtown’s cultural resurgence,” says DDA Executive Director Alyse Robertson. “Certainly, this would be a less interesting place without the arts. So we’re going to try, whenever we can come up with, to retain that cultural vibrancy of downtown. We think it’s an important part of any kind of major city. We’re pretty well known around the world now, and a lot of it comes from our cultural depth, the diversity of our culture, the offerings that are made. We’re an interesting place for people to visit. A lot of that comes from the cultural arena.”
Building and maintaining a flourishing arts community downtown obviously includes well-known institutions such as the Arsht Center and the Pérez Art Museum Miami, Robertson says. “But it’s also not just working with the big boys; it’s also trying to bring in the new and emerging artists.”
Sonja Bogensperger, recently promoted to deputy director of the DDA, was instrumental in brokering the arrangement for the artists with the Miami Worldcenter. It’s a matter of being vigilant when it comes to developers and the stages of their projects, she says, explaining that the time frame for an artist-developer collaborative is constantly opening and closing, depending upon the project.
When asked if the city had land set aside to help foster an ongoing arts community in Miami, Robertson indicated that her department is working on it.
“That’s what we’re trying to do, to encourage them to do something in that realm,” she says. “I don’t want to talk a lot of details about that because some of the people don’t know what we’re going to suggest to them just yet.”
In the meantime, Bogensperger continues to work on finding another space for Dimensions Variable. The exhibition space will remain open through Oct. 18, when You Can Not Be Replaced closes.
Withstandley, who co-founded Locust Projects, another of Miami’s alternative art spaces, draws parallels between the demise of Dimensions Variable at its current site and her installation there. Withstandley produced a two-channel video installation that features all 82 past and present members of the Polyphonic Spree, a Dallas choral symphonic rock band. Her three-year project examined the seemingly interchangeable nature and yet uniqueness of each member of the band, playing with the nature of a collective group supplanting the nature of the individual.
“It’s such a large volume of people because it started to question people’s identity,” she says. “I wanted to put a title to it where it was something that functioned both ways. ‘You Can Not be Replaced’ — I think you kind of wonder, you can be replaced. The video makes the viewer ask that question of themselves.”
Withstandley also compares Dimensions Variable to Locust Projects, which had humble beginnings and now is an established art space with a permanent location in the Design District.
“I think that Dimensions Variable is similar to Locust Projects in the earlier years,” she says. “I think what’s sort of funny about Dimensions Variable is they’ve imposed within their name that it’s OK to move from space to space. It’s an interesting concept for a gallery. It’s like they are being transparent about it. We can have this space and we can be here and we can move to somewhere else, as opposed to an organization where it really matters where they are.”