Has Miami Become the Second-Most Artsy City in America?


New York City may have the best cultural scene in the world, but there's a lively debate among culturalistas about which city might be second in the U.S.A. Ten years ago, Chicago, L.A., Philadelphia and Boston would be obvious contenders. But today, arguably, the Miami area might be considered numero dos.

I grew up in Miami Beach when a concert meant Sammy Davis belting "Candy Man" in the Fontainbleau Hotel's Boom Boom Room. The Magic City area was culturally un-magical. Now the scene offers music, dance, theatre and fine arts blooming like bougainvillea year-round.

It's happened recently. And here are six big reasons for the change:

- Art Basel Miami arrived in 2002: five-days each December showcasing the work of thousands of artists and over 250 of the world's leading galleries. It begat satellite fairs include NADA, Pulse and Design Miami. And inspired by the artsy scene, the late Tony Goldman, re-developer of NYC's Soho, and South Beach, helped turn Miami's warehouse area into the Wynwood Arts District, with the greatest concentration of street art in the country.

- The Perez Miami Art Museum (PAMM), the former Miami Art Museum, reopened in 2013 at the Miami end of the MacArthur Causeway, linking to the Beach and overlooking Biscayne Bay and the Port of Miami. Its popularity has spurred other museums to up their game, and the winner is the community.

The Miami-inspired building designed by Pritzker-Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron is in a new Museum Park, and offers 15 exhibition galleries focusing on contemporary and transformative art of Latin America and the Caribbean, reflecting the city's international diversity.

- The Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center is 10-years old and thriving, offering world-class performances and arts events. The Cleveland Orchestra winter residency just celebrated its 10th season there; Florida Grand Opera is producing cutting-edge works such as "The Passenger;" and theater, dance and performance-art productions sell-out at its three halls throughout the year. The center plans a 10-year, $600 million reconstruction project to further connect it to downtown Miami's urban development.

- Miami City Ballet has become one of the largest ballet companies in the United States. Edward Villella started it going in 1985, and his Balanchine-infused repertoire gained immediate world recognition; Artistic Director Lourdes Lopez continues the top-level artistry, and the company recently garnered raves in New York. The troupe of over 50 dancers performs throughout South Florida, including at the Arsht. And at the three-story practice space on Miami Beach, residents can watch the artists rehearse, near Collins Park and the newly expanding Bass Museum, and across the street from the ocean. Cool.

- High-end and creative international and American residents and tourists are increasingly drawn to Miami for its cultural riches as much as its beaches. Sophisticated audiences spur all the arts, including the growing number of art cinemas, and top-level theater companies such as GableStage. New projects and companies are establishing in small venues and reconverted spaces, and theater-lovers are promoting and awaiting a restoration of the landmark Coconut Grove Playhouse.

To house and entertain these new more art-centric residents and tourists, starchitects including the late Zaha Hadid are transforming the skyline, creating dazzling architectural creations such as the FAENA District, The Design District, and the main campus of the National YoungArts Foundation.

Miami-Dade Art in Public Places, begun in the 1980s, complements the many privately owned artworks in office buildings and condos. Fly into MIA and you'll find installations all around you, floors to ceiling. Walk along Brickell Avenue downtown and you'll see sculptures along the roadway, within the glass-windowed multi-use buildings, and at the Metro Station.

Private donors and organizations add collections and fund-raising into the mix. The Knight Foundation, based in downtown Miami, is the major private benefactor to the local arts community. Their motto: "We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged."

Smaller funding groups fuel Miami's cultural growth as well. For 20 years Funding Arts Network (FAN), an all-volunteer organization, has supported visual and performing arts programs in Miami-Dade County through member-supported grants to arts providers, nearing $4 million. It also offers capacity-building workshops for grant applicants and forums for members fostering arts involvement, appreciation, and awareness of the growing Miami arts scene.

"The remarkable explosion of the arts in Miami has made our role as an arts-support organization even more important," says Deborah Hoffman, Founding President of FAN. "The future holds even more promise that these diverse and exciting cultural opportunities will continue to enrich our lives."