Art — and by association, big money — takes center stage in Miami-Dade this week with the start of Miami Art Week, and its signature event, Art Basel Miami Beach.
No other event in South Florida is as monied or glitterati-attended as Art Basel. It attracts art enthusiasts from around the world, and on Wednesday, the prime collectors get to browse at the art buffet before the general public, who will pay a $47 admission fee to see the works from more than 260 galleries on display inside the Miami Beach Convention Center.
The excruciating traffic gridlock that the art show brings aside, our community owes Art Basel a debt of gratitude.
Not since comedian Jackie Gleason moved his weekly television show to Miami Beach in 1964 and peddled the warm climate to the rest of the country has one event had a more significant impact on our cultural community.
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Before Art Basel, based in Switzerland, selected Miami Beach 14 years ago for its outpost in the subtropics, our main wintertime attractions were sun, sand and surf — just as it had been for decades. Art Basel added a new layer of economic enhancement by turning the region into a real art destination. Imagine such a thing in a city known for the art of pink plastic flamingos and kitschy vacation mementos.
But Art Basel, which began as a weekend event and now generates enough interest to fill an entire week with activities around it, is also a bonanza for the local economy. That goes without saying.
The windfall is in the millions, as hotels, restaurants, drivers, curators, art installers, galleries all find work as thousands of art lovers, from the curious to serious collectors — Hollywood hot shots like Leonardo DiCaprio, among them — come to “Mecca.”
For many locals, it’s the one week of the year where they can dabble in the world of high art — and learn to appreciate it as essential to nourishing the soul and elevating cultural discourse.
This year, local artists are making social statements on serious issues with their art, which will be on display at several venues. Xavier Cortada, for instance, is staging a series of panel discussions, performance art and other events to spotlight sea-level rise and climate change.
But no doubt Art Basel’s best contribution is the focus it’s brought to local artists, like Mr. Cortada, by showcasing their talent and helping turn some dodgy neighborhoods into bohemian enclaves.
Would Wynwood have gotten the attention of the developers making their mark there now if artists, galleries, street muralists and visionary investors such as the late Tony Goldman hadn’t been the pioneers? Call it the Art Basel Effect.
The Miami Herald recently asked several CEOs, including Harve A. Mogul, president and CEO of the United Way of Miami-Dade, to describe the impact Art Basel has had on our community. He summed it up by saying:
“Art Basel has spawned hundreds of successful ancillary businesses and fueled the growth of Wynwood, the Design District and Midtown — not just Miami Beach. And, equally important, it has helped elevate our community’s self-esteem and aspiration for an even better tomorrow.”
Well said. And Art Basel loves us, too. Noah Horowitz, director Americas for Art Basel, says that it is here to stay. Translation: Greater Miami is good for Art Basel and, of course, Art Basel is great for us.