O Cinema latest to exit Wynwood, prove Miami must prioritize space for the arts

O Cinema will close its Wynwood location in the spring of 2019 to make way for a new real estate development.
O Cinema will close its Wynwood location in the spring of 2019 to make way for a new real estate development.

This coming February, O Cinema will celebrate eight years of bringing engaging and entertaining films to Miami at our flagship Wynwood location.

Soon thereafter we’ll be packing up our projector, unbolting the chairs from the floor and storing the popcorn machine as the theater closes to make way for a brand new real estate development on the site that O Cinema and the Wynwood Yard now occupy.

While we’ll keep going strong at our North Beach location, this particular chapter will come to a close.

The public reaction to the news is overwhelming. Thousands of comments flooded social media and we received countless emails and calls from the community lamenting the news. “Wynwood is over” was a common sentiment.

In some ways they’re right. At least the current incarnation of Wynwood we helped shape, has indeed shifted and in record timing even by the standards of South Florida’s speculative development.

Yet, for all the bittersweet emotions around the end of this chapter, I haven’t been angry. I couldn’t be. Our landlord had been forthright with us all along and we all knew that the market value of the property, which we helped increase with our presence, would be too great for us to remain on-site forever.

We aren’t casualties of gentrification, we’re the victims of our own success. Yet there is still a pang of knowing that with each passing day the “Art” part of the Wynwood Arts District keeps eroding.

The cycle we’ve seen in Wynwood is one that is as old as time itself and not unique to Miami. Bring in arts and artists, attract their constituency, achieve critical mass and then redevelop. Rinse, lather, repeat.

San Francisco’s Mission district, East Austin in Texas, Los Angeles’s Boyle Heights and Crenshaw neighborhoods, and practically all of New York are examples of the cycle of arts enriching neighborhoods and then being forced out in what’s been called the Soho effect.

Accessibility to arts and culture not only improves quality of life but it attracts talent to the region, increases connectivity between residents and their community and augments the happiness quotient of local citizenry all of which leads to safer communities, thriving commerce, and vibrant civic life. In other words, arts are good for people and they’re good for business.

As the relentless urban sprawl in Miami continues unfettered, much of what made the neighborhoods attractive to an organization in the first place is what ultimately makes them vulnerable to the whims of the free market. As arts organizations, if we are to protect ourselves and the community we serve from displacement, then we must control our own destiny. The clearest pathway to doing so is ownership of our spaces.

Controlling your real estate asset means stability, the freedom of long-term planning and the financial security of equity. This means being able to be ambitious with your programming and smartly grow in your space without facing the looming risk and uncertainty of continuously changing operating costs.

The question is how do we achieve this? The short answer is we must all be vested and vocal in the success of our arts institutions — big and small alike. Local government should increase support around property acquisition, voters should insist that arts and culture be a mainstay of all community development projects especially public/private ones and funders and municipalities alike should recognize that the stability of ownership helps art organizations thrive and better serve the community.

Here’s some good news. This week, the Knight Foundation announced a $1.5 million dollar pledge to help O Cinema create South Florida’s first independent film center by supporting the cinema’s purchase and renovation of a permanent home, part of their larger investment in strengthening mid-sized arts organizations in our community.

We must ensure that elected officials, developers, and community leaders recognize the power of creative placemaking and the economic development benefits of arts in neighborhoods. Arts and culture are abundant here year-round, not just during this one week in December. As arts organizations, we must leverage our constituency to support a pathway to ownership and we must approach our spaces through the lens of equitable development and not arts-led gentrification.

For arts institutions, ownership can be the rare blend of organizational need and growth opportunity anchored in service to the community.

In so much of our societies discussion today we throw around the term innovation. Labeling all that is new and shiny as most attractive.

Yet in a city like Miami, which with each passing decade look and feels more different than the last, continuity, stability and longevity may be the most innovative idea of all.