The Bramans give Miami a free museum - thank you!

The Institute for Contemporary Art Miami opened in time for Art Basel in the Miami Design District.
The Institute for Contemporary Art Miami opened in time for Art Basel in the Miami Design District.

The Bramans give us a free museum - thank you!

We live in a mean-spirited time, full of discord, disunity and petulance, so we have to take our victories where we find them. More than ever, that means close to home.

If all politics is local (and it is), so too are many of the local things that speak to our spiritual needs and satisfy our hunger for social coherence, civility, meaning and beauty. We should embrace such things when we find them.

So let’s collectively embrace the Institute for Contemporary Art Miami, a splendid new museum in the Miami Design District.

It occupies a handsome three-story building with spacious, light-filled galleries and a spectacular sculpture garden.

Stroll through and you’ll find cutting-edge contemporary painting, sculpture, video and art installations. There are some famous names on display — Picasso, Warhol, Lichtenstein — but this is not a museum for old masters, bur new ones.

What a joy to see them close to home. And in a museum that from its inception can stand as an equal along side some of the best in the world.

“This museum is a gift to the community,” Norman Braman told me opening day of the ICA. “That's why it doesn’t bear our name. It doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to the community.” That’s in keeping with the Jewish tradition of tzedakah, civic responsibility and giving, which the Bramans personify.

You’ll recall that he was so upset with the one-sided financing deal for Marlins Stadium that he sued to stop it — not because he was against the stadium, but because he was against using taxpayer dollars to pay for it, especially dollars from a community redevelopment agency (CRA) meant to fight slums and blight. Braman lost that fight, but he won with the ICA.

Braman has put his money — a lot of it — where his mouth is: He and his wife Irma, who chairs the board of trustees, wrote a huge check to cover most of the cost of the ICA.

He politely refuses to say exactly how much, but the fund-raising goal to get the museum up and running was $75 million. They reached it without one dollar coming from public funds; the cost to run the museum annually — $6 million — will also come from private funds.

“I’ve always felt strongly about taxpayer dollars and how they’re used,” Braman told me. “And I wanted to prove that a museum could be built privately without having to go for taxpayer dollars.” Prove it he did, bigly.

Credit also goes to Design District developer and art collector Craig Robins, who donated the property on Northeast 41st Street, right next to the De La Cruz Collection, another excellent privately-owned museum.

The ICA’s opening show is first rate, some 100 works by 50 artists portraying the studios where they work. “The Everywhere Studio,” as the show is called, provides a fascinating insight into the creative process. Some pieces are brilliant, most are interesting and a few may leave you befuddled. But it has always been thus with art, more so with this kind of innovative, edgy stuff.

The ICA joins a group of privately-owned museums in Miami showing this kind of art — the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, the Rubell Family Collection, the Cisneros Fontanels Art Foundation and the De La Cruz. You used to have to go to New York, Paris or London to see art of this caliber and quality. No longer.

You can also see it here either for a nominal fee or for free. The ICA, the Bramans say, will never charge admission. “From the beginning we wanted it to be free,” Irma Braman says.

She and her board want to refute any notion that art museums are snooty places that cater only to elites. “We want people of every age and background to come,” she says.

On opening day there were dozens of students along with some one-percenters.

It was a good feeling to be in a beautiful place that brings people together.

We need more of that.

A long time ago I read Voltaire’s “Candide” and never forgot his closing advice: “Cultivate your own garden.”

At the ICA, the garden is blooming.