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Miami Beach may put Sleepless Night to bed

Those who enjoyed Miami Beach’s Sleepless Night should cherish the memories: The free cultural marathon that every other November showcased arts and performance groups from around the world has been canceled this year, and could be put to bed altogether.

“Considering the extreme difficulty of raising funds each year, the administration is analyzing the event to determine if it should be discontinued permanently,” City Manager Jorge Gonzalez wrote in a memo to elected officials last month.

Since 2007, Miami Beach has hosted the all-night arts festival modeled on Nuit Blanche events in Paris, Montreal, Amsterdam and elsewhere. Local bands, film producers, dance troupes, and internationally renowned artists and performance groups were scattered throughout the city from sundown to sunrise. In past years, aerial dancers scaled the New World Center, MASS Ensemble played the massive Earth Harp above Ocean Drive, and attendees traversed a psychedelic labyrinth in Collins Park.

The all-night affair was a hit with artists and art lovers. Last November, prominent local artist Pablo Cano told The Herald that Sleepless Night is “like a miracle.” And a study conducted by Americans for the Arts found that roughly 130,000 event attendees spent approximately $6 million collectively in Miami Beach during Sleepless Night 2009.

But the job of producing and funding the all-nighter — which, depending on the year, ranged in cost from $400,000 to $700,000 — fell on the city’s small culture and tourism department. Success proved elusive in 2008 and 2010, years in which the city failed to host the festivities.

The city hoped to host the event in consecutive years for the first time ever come November, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation offered to donate $100,000 this year if the event went on. But Gary Farmer, cultural affairs program manager for Miami Beach, said the city couldn’t find a title sponsor by the time it needed to start cutting checks.

“We were a long way from our goal. And it’s sad,” he said.

While the 2012 cancellation has not been much of a shock — given the event’s on-again, off-again history — the idea that it might not come back has disappointed supporters and participants.

Ray Breslin, president of the Collins Park Neighborhood Association, said that the neighborhood, which is in a tucked-away section of South Beach, received great exposure from Sleepless Night.

“It brings a lot of people to Collins Park,” he said.

And Hannah Baumgarten, the co-founder of Miami Beach-based Dance Now! Miami, said that Sleepless Night has been great, not only for exposure — she said her group performed before 1,000 attendees on Ocean Drive last November — but also for Miami Beach’s status as a culturally relevant community.

“It was becoming like an Art Basel,” she said. “It was becoming something that was recognized even if it was every other year.”

Rebekah Lengel, managing producer with Miami Light Project — which had talked with the city about performing at the Colony Theater this year — agreed.

During Sleepless Night, she said, “the place where I live isn’t just shiny lights, pretty beaches and naked people. It becomes a cultural mecca. Even if it’s just one night, the city is elevated.”

Gonzalez said that the question now is whether it’s appropriate or feasible that the city of Miami Beach produce a major arts festival, given its past struggles. He also noted that every time the city canceled Sleepless Night, it made it more difficult to convince sponsors to donate the next year.

“Do we say it’s not sustainable, we had a good run and not pursue it anymore?” he said. “That’s a policy conversation.”

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