Creating public art on a 19-story canvas

With accessibility comes opportunity, and with the international spotlight shining brighter on Miami every day, the city is looking to its creative community to make a statement. Fewer conventional road maps for success and less competition than most big metropolises offer a unique window for cultural entrepreneurship.

The forming terrain can allow for grassroots concepts to grow quickly, and the answer to what this will all mean is still being written: How will Miami be labeled in the national and global conversation? In this dynamic market, the ideas of creative individuals, institutions and organizations are of increasing value.

Once such initiative, NEWT: Experiments in Light, Color & Sound, was recently named a winner of The Miami Foundation’s Public Space Challenge. It aims to take over the InterContinental Miami’s 19-story digital canvas in downtown in November, a project that is as interested in artistic rigor as it is in exploring cultural identity and community engagement through public art.

A 1989 Miami Herald story by Beth Dunlop once asked, “Can a light in a night sky also transform a city?” Though she was referring to the now-defunct laser tower created by Isamu Noguchi for the neighboring Bayfront Park, more than 25 years later, NEWT and other creative groups are generating new — and, at times, self-referential — content to help take part in the larger dialogue around urban planning.

Cities such as Medellin, Colombia, have been lauded for their innovative infrastructure that, in focusing on sustainable development, specifically looked at culture, libraries, architecture, parks and the arts to rebrand themselves.

Closer to home, there has been a surge in Detroit’s public art that challenges traditional channels and places of viewership. Partially funded by the Knight Foundation, Nick Cave’s Here Hear activates the prolific artist’s “soundsuits” in a free performance series at the Ruth Ellis Center for homeless and at-risk youth, alongside a current exhibition at the Cranbrook Art Museum.

In Miami, which has the opportunity, audience, and disposable income to produce and sustain artistic endeavors, the city is poised, more than ever, to generate its own original content and cultural capital. Platforms for meaningful social collisions present themselves through the lens of public art, thoughtful landscape design, waterways and emerging urban communities. Even with what felt like an exodus of local artists to Los Angeles a few years ago, South Florida still possesses and continues to attract world-class talent.

It’s no coincidence that Miami was recently named No. 2 in startup activity by the Kauffman Foundation, citing a high level of connectivity and vibrant organizational support as key factors. It’s understood that many Miami entrepreneurs are motivated by opportunity rather than necessity. This is the case for composer Kelly Nunes and I, who as creatives, saw the InterContinental’s $30-million high-tech renovation as a site for a public-art intervention.

For NEWT, the skyline presents itself as a vertical stage with the power to reflect a sociocultural shift. With viewpoints of the InterContinental throughout Miami from Nov. 10-15, pedestrians will be invited to look toward Biscayne Bay for rapid-motion animation on the building’s exterior walls, while plugging into their smart phones and web devices for a synchronized, original musical composition. Adopting a sensory approach to architecture, NEWT was inspired by the collective creative experience, and by Isaac Newton’s ideas of correlating sound to color, which inform the installation’s animation and music.

Awesome Foundation and the Miami Downtown Development Authority were among the first to offer gateway grants to assist with developing NEWT’s technology, and the Public Space Challenge and a crowd-funding campaign will help produce collaborative pop-ups, talks and events that are both accessible to diverse audiences and shine a light on existing programs.

Beyond NEWT (www.projectnewt.com ), it will ultimately be up to locals to write the next chapters of their neighborhood’s story in this ongoing movement of experiential happenings, DIY social practice and spontaneous acts of amazingness.

Dejha Carrington is the co-founder of NEWT Miami and works with National YoungArts Foundation.