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Written by Jenni Person - Special to the BT   
January 2013

Basel is a blast, but there are things we should be doing to nurture our local creative scene year-round

APix_MyView_1-13rt Basel Miami Beach. I love the fact it puts the word “art” on so many lips. I love being able to complain about “art traffic” and the way it makes our community synonymous with something as important to life as art.

Yes, I’m someone who believes that art (which I define as creative practice in any and all disciplines) can transform life and communities. I love that art pops up everywhere for weeks, establishing us as a community for whom “routine” is anything but mundane.

I love Art Public taking over Collins Park, in partnership with the Bass Museum. Also I love that this year I could step out of my house and look up and see art flying over me in the form of a kinetic text installation carried through the sky on the tails of planes. This Plane Text project of the Morgans Hotel Group featured work by prominent artists known for their public play with words, people like John Baldessari and Jenny Holzer. (This was especially exciting to me as someone who likes to hang words and haiku from ceilings.) 

Art in your face aside, a quick search of the New York Times website reveals that most Times coverage of Art Basel was about the parties and the social scene. This only serves to solidify the mumblings and grumblings from some Miamians that art fair week is just a big party, a popularity contest in which the most important criteria are not the most rigorous or layered of cultural discourses, but rather the number of “right” parties attended.

We hear a lot about the levels of super-richness, the traffic glut of private planes, and the extravagant affairs. After all, everybody loves to come to Miami to party. So did Miami, with her unstoppable rhythm, put the party in art or is creative practice truly being celebrated? With all of the apparent lauding of creativity and art for art’s sake we see bubbling in early December, it’s important for us to remember that the season is a retail event. It exists for the purpose of bringing collectors and gallerists together in a sunny opportunity to sell a product and define “important” by monetary value.

Imagine how challenging a pill that is to swallow for people who have dedicated their lives to a creative practice which inherently, across disciplines, does not fit into a traditional supply-and-demand economic model. Imagine what it’s like to have a deeply informed creative practice and a million-dollar mind, but not the equivalent in the bank, or the right hip factor to be invited to the conversation. My fear is that it drapes a communitywide melancholy and low-grade anxiety over our artists.

When everything is being measured by the booming success and attention of an international arts scene that touches down in your backyard once a year, how do you have the space and context to focus on an individual practice and vision? Perhaps it is a reminder that this really can’t be the only conversation in a substantive arts community.

How can we channel the energy that surrounds Basel into a year-round culture of arts engagement and meaningful, even generative, discourse in Miami?

It would be great if we could start with a central and meaningful conversation in the mainstream media. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was more critical discussion about the arts that went beyond the parties and the scene in daily papers, TV news, and websites? Something as basic as context in an artist’s practice is frequently absent from the way work is presented in the media, or in our culture.

Perhaps next December, a few media outlets will report in some greater depth on different projects, organizations, and artists living and working here in Miami. Perhaps the initiative will be launched during Basel and continue year-round.

Perhaps a penny tax during art fair week could be put in place for the purpose of marketing our cultural community and projects the rest of the year. The Arts and Business Council -- which, as the local affiliate of Americans for the Arts’ national arts marketing project, runs the Miami arts marketing project -- would be a great candidate to distribute such funds to Miami-based artists and organizations.

While many art fair attendees are visitors to the area, a substantial South Florida audience also comes out for the festivities. Indeed, some locals only come out for art during Basel. So how about enlisting some help from fair organizers to devise ways to engage Miami residents at other times of the year?

And most important, let’s keep in mind how challenging a life in the arts can be, as it generally doesn’t fit our culture’s mainstream social and economic models. Let’s be really good to each other. And please don’t ask any artist to do things for free unless it really, truly benefits him or her.

 

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