How Miami became an artistic hotspot

By December 1, 2011

More on one of our favorite topics: Art Basel. Since opening in 2001, Art Basel Miami Beach has been a catalyst in transforming Miami into an international destination, and its urban core into an arts & cultural hub.
Since its first edition in 2001, Art Basel Miami Beach has been a catalyst in transforming the city
By Cristina Ruiz. From Art Basel Miami Beach daily edition
Published online: 30 November 2011
Read the full story here.
Ten years ago Miami was known mostly for its beaches and nightlife. Today it is a cultural destination with burgeoning ambitions. The city’s museums are expanding and its private spaces for art are increasingly active. Major buildings by Frank Gehry, Herzog & de Meuron and Zaha Hadid have either been completed or are planned. As Art Basel Miami Beach celebrates its tenth anniversary we asked four of the city’s most prominent figures—including Norman Braman and Craig Robins, who lobbied hard for the fair to come to Miami—how important the fair has been to that resurgence. We also spoke to a leading European curator to see how the international art world’s view of Miami has changed in the past decade.
Norman Braman, chief executive, Braman Enterprises, and collector
During the 1990s, Miami and Miami Beach had a terrible reputation. There were tourist muggings and even murders and the city was written about as a place to avoid. Now, as a result of Art Basel Miami Beach and the people who visit South Florida from all over the world, the image of Miami has changed. Visitors from Europe buy apartments here and even come back to vacation during the rest of the year.
Art Basel Miami Beach has become the most important fair in the US and, if you consider all the satellite events, has probably surpassed its parent in Switzerland in terms of the number of galleries and visitors. I’ve been told that more private jets arrive here for Art Basel than fly to the Super Bowl.
I remember the difficulty in attracting galleries here for the first year. Art Miami, which had been here for a number of years, was not an overwhelming success and some of the galleries I knew, such as Pace, had tried it and did not want to come back. But a number of collectors, including me, persuaded some of those galleries to come to the first Art Basel. What they found was that the fair was a tonic at a normally very quiet time of year.
The fair has also created a new generation of collectors who never collected before, including my own daughter. It has also exposed Miami Beach to people from all over the world in a positive light. Today the new Miami Art Museum is under construction, MoCA is undergoing a major expansion and the Bass Museum has undergone a tremendous change. And look at Wynwood, which was one of the most depressed areas of the city before the fair arrived. Today it’s a vibrant area full of art galleries—Art Basel helped revitalise a district that was totally off limits before.
Craig Robins, chief executive and president, Dacra (property developer); developer of the Miami Design District; founder and co-owner, Design Miami
Art Basel Miami Beach has had an incredibly positive impact on the city. The fair has helped establish Miami as an international city of cultural substance. It has also paved the way for other cultural projects and endeavours that have enhanced the city. For example, although the New World Symphony was here long before Art Basel, a partial catalyst in the project to build it a new home designed by Frank Gehry was the fact that Miami was becoming an international destination for culture.
Cultural events can have huge influence on how a city evolves. We saw this in the 1980s with the re-emergence of South Beach. Dacra played an integral role in the redevelopment of this area. When South Beach and the Art Deco district began to come back, that changed people’s image of Miami and it led to tremendous growth in the city as a whole. Art Basel had a similar impact. The fair was an opportunity for the city to showcase itself to an international crowd. It gave Miami an important role on the cultural stage. As places evolve, sometimes they get better and better and sometimes they peak and decline. Miami is clearly a city of the future.
Silvia Karman Cubiñá, executive director, Bass Museum of Art
Art Basel brings an international community of discriminating and knowledgeable visitors to the city’s museums. This is a wonderful challenge and opportunity for the museums and the artists showing their work. Furthermore, the momentum keeps visitors coming back to Miami for the rest of the year: dealers return to see collectors and museums; artists come to Miami to install works or have exhibitions that take place during the year, and some people simply come for their vacation. The fair serves as a motor that keeps running all year long.
The impact of the fair on cultural life in Miami has been enormous. It has been a big factor in extending the reach of the city’s arts organisations and their ability to attract world-class artists. It has also helped increase attendance and philanthropy at museums. And its influence doesn’t stop with art—look at the architecture. Major architects now have important projects in Miami Beach: Frank Gehry’s New World Center, Herzog & de Meuron’s 1111 Lincoln Road garage, and soon Zaha Hadid’s parking garage for the Collins Park neighbourhood.
In Miami Beach you can see an overall cultural flourishing that has affected what we do, where we see art and hear music and even where we park our cars. It has been about reaching a level of excellence and now it will be about sustaining it.
Cristina Lei Rodriguez, artist
I grew up in Miami but went to college in Vermont and then eventually got my MFA in San Francisco. When I finished that me and my husband, who is also from Miami, really wanted to come back. We returned in 2003. It seemed like various things were starting to happen at least partly because of Art Basel. The attitude among artists was: “do it yourself”, “make something happen”. Everyone was trying to get their act together since Art Basel was starting to establish itself. Another positive effect of the fair was that it connected Miami’s art scene to the international art world.
However, not all the benefits to art in Miami have been because of Art Basel. Our studio is in the Design District—there’s a cluster of studios and art spaces there—and we’re all generously funded and supported by Dacra… it’s amazing. It’s been something that has really formed all of our careers. Even at the time when we moved in, it was a time when a lot of things were happening in my career and to have a space that I didn’t have to pay for really helped my career reach the next level.
Beatrix Ruf, director, Zurich Kunsthalle
I probably would never have gone to Miami without Art Basel Miami Beach. It just wasn’t on my map. I knew a few collectors who lived there but I didn’t have any motivation to go there. Now it has become essential. Except for the first edition, I have been every year. Over the years the city has become more and more active, the collectors with their private spaces and also the public museums. Everyone is gearing up to do shows and projects on all levels. There are independent projects, the design fair—which is much stronger than in Basel—and more and more galleries that only exist when Art Basel is on. The city is much more confident in its role as a cultural destination.
Sam Keller, director, Beyeler Foundation, Basel; director, Art Basel, 2000-07
From the beginning, part of our plan in Miami was to work with many partners to do whatever we could to develop the cultural programme of the city. Art Basel Miami Beach has certainly helped put the spotlight on Miami’s cultural life and made it a destination for artists, musicians and all creative individuals. The fair has helped private collections and public museums develop and new spaces for art have emerged along the way. And the whole city has embraced the fair with special receptions, events and parties in private collections, museums and galleries not just for the happy few but for thousands.
This opening up of the city was something new, which we pioneered in Miami and which has now become an industry standard for fairs. It has played an important part in getting local people to engage with art and getting visitors to engage with the city.
Most important of all, Art Basel Miami Beach has shown that Miami has huge potential as a hub between Latin America and Europe. More people from Latin America now come to Miami, as do more Europeans and North Americans, to look for Latin American art. This link between North America and Latin America is something that has even been strengthened within the city, with these two different communities working much more closely together, for example, in the boards of museums and in many other collaborations.
Read more here.