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Written by Fred Jonas, Special to the BT   
March 2020

The Biscayne Corridor has some fledgling programs

OPix_FredJonas_3-20ne academic who writes about the value of public art to create a sense of community is, funny enough, Richard Florida. (No, he’s a Canadian academic, and he lives in Toronto but has a second home in Miami Beach.) The late Denis Dutton, a well-known art philosopher and historian, called his own book The Art Instinct and looked more broadly at “Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution,” as he subtitled his tome.

Art can, and does, “make” places. We know little more about cave dwellers’ living spaces than that we’ve seen their cave drawings. The first thing that comes to mind for many people when they think of Paris is the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre. When we think of Moscow or Barcelona or Istanbul or Jerusalem, we think first of their trademark architecture.

My own first awareness of public art was when I went to college in the Boston area and encountered statues depicting figures of the American Revolution. Some of them are in the Boston Public Garden and the Boston Common, along with the brass ducklings for which a way was made, in tribute to Robert McCloskey’s children’s book.

Other U.S. cities with famous public art installations and programs are Kansas City, Missouri, where many pieces were provided by Henry and Richard Bloch (“H&R Block”), local boys who made good; San Francisco and San Diego (both have installations at their ports); NYC (the Statue of Liberty, the Wall Street bull). Chattanooga, Tennessee, has a nice little art park. Asheville, North Carolina, has an impressive program downtown.

There’s an odd cluster of small and larger Midwestern communities that seem to have made names for themselves by their public art collections. Flossmoor and Peoria, Illinois; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Eau Claire, Wisconsin, have public sculpture acquisition programs. I’ve seen impressive pieces in White Plains and Taconic, New York. (Apart from murals, most outdoor public art is sculpture, not painting. And I’m really addressing drive-by public art, not the kind for which you have to find a parking space, pay an admission fee, and spend time in a museum.) Support for all of these programs is a mixture of public and private funds.

Our area has shown an increasing presence of art installations. They were spotty and infrequent at first, with some sculptures on Miami Beach, for example. In fact, the Beach’s very first piece of public art, way back in 1979, was by now-acclaimed artist Roy Lichtenstein. His sculpture, The Mermaid, reportedly was also the first public-art commission of his illustrious career. It is on 17th Street next to the Fillmore/Jackie Gleason theater.

And then…there was Tony Goldman. Part of his revitalization of Wynwood, just as he had done previously in the SoHo section of Manhattan, involved murals. Lots of murals. And as murals appeared in Wynwood, they began to appear elsewhere. As did public sculptures. There’s a large sculpture of one of Romero Britto’s running girls near the top of a building visible from I-95 near downtown Miami. Bay Harbor Islands has a couple of pieces in one of the 96th Street medians. There’s also a concerted and respectable program in Maurice Ferré Park downtown, and another series on Lincoln Road. Both of them currently feature large, dramatic, and very expensive sculptures by the Colombian artist Francisco Botero. A much more out-of-the-way but still publicly accessible collection is in the “sculpture garden” at FIU, just south of SW 8th Street off 107th Avenue.

“Public,” in this sense, means two things. One is art situated in public spaces; the other is art that might be privately owned and on private property but is easily visible to anyone. Are you wondering if I’m telling all this to you because we up here in the little old Biscayne Corridor have some examples of public art? We sure do.

The program in Miami Shores was begun by Susan Ackley, and it includes a number of loans. The pieces are completely, or almost completely, sculptures, and they’re on NE 2nd Avenue. Most of them are in Optimist Park, although one or two are a few blocks north, in front of Village Hall. Ackley relied on connections she had, and now there’s a formal art committee or board. Miami Beach, by the way, also now relies on a formal art board, and some of its members are renowned professionals, not all living in Miami Beach. The Beach has a more or less generous budget, and it pays considerable prices for successfully curated and even commissioned pieces. The Miami Shores program is much more modest, and it generally does not acquire any art. Two exceptions are a 9/11 memorial, which is permanent and located in…Memorial Park, and a Britto “Beach Ball.” There was a time when Britto gave away some art pieces to municipalities (a very nice public gesture and business strategy), and his sister happened at the time to live in Miami Shores.

The Miami Shores program, which is called the Miami Shores Fine Arts Commission, is funded by the Village. In the case of the 9/11 memorial, the acquisition was funded by donations made by residents -- some as little as $10 -- with larger donations made by local businesses. The big donor for that project was Barry University.

A smaller, and not as well organized, public art program exists in Biscayne Park. That program was begun, informally, by a few town residents who pooled their money to buy a sculpture, which they then offered as a gift to the village. It was the village commission that had to decide whether or not to accept the gift. There were three such gifts over the course of four years or so, and the number of donors grew from 6 to about 20. Three different commissions all accepted the gifts.

The next Biscayne Park installation was a mural on an exterior wall at the recreation center. That acquisition was in fact paid for with village coffers money. Smaller decorative artistic objects have been provided by the Biscayne Park Foundation.

At this point, there is a Biscayne Park Art Advisory Board (not as sophisticated as the Miami Shores arts commission, and not funded) which will curate any further proposed acquisitions.

Miami-Dade County figured out what Richard Florida and Denis Dutton know. Any public-sector construction in the county, for county buildings or even buildings in individual municipalities, is subject to a requirement that 1.5 percent of the cost of the new construction must additionally be set aside and used for public art. The art is supposed to grace the newly built structure, and the county has a list of approved artists.

 

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