Category Archives: Culture

Miami’s cultural heritage, popular culture role, and distinct sociological atmosphere are covered.

Miami’s Hispanic Demography as Seen from Bird Road

Bird Road isn’t emblematic of Miami like Brickell Avenue, Ocean Drive, and Biscayne Boulevard. Completely absent of glitz and glamour, it’s a stalwart of the middle class—quintessential Miami. To understand the City’s Hispanic composition, one need only consider it. Let’s examine a three mile stretch of “La Cuarenta” (as it is known in Spanish)—from SW 67th Avenue to 102nd Avenue—and see what Latin America’s got cooking in this sub-tropical metropolis:

South America

Argentina and Uruguay

Argentinians, self proclaimed experts of everything, are actually masters of steak and pizza. Their desserts, too, are delectable. At Grazianos, next to Bird Bowl, glory comes off the grill. Rest assured, though, they have competition. Uruguayans have their own haunt, Doña Paulina, 10 blocks away.  Continue reading

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Art Pact in Brickell

Recently, several colleagues and I decided to form Patrons of Art in the City Trust (PACT) with the purpose of enhancing the culture of art patronage in the City. In this Sunday’s El Nuevo Herald, Ana Remos wrote a column regarding our initiative as one that could alter the city scape of Brickell.

Local artist Rafael Consuegra’s work

The Artist

Miami is home to a panoply of talented artists, many of which are sculptors. I have had the pleasure of developing friendships with a few of the city’s best. Over time, I’ve realized that, despite their renown talents, the life of an artist is tough. Theirs is a burning passion that can find expression commensurate to the resources disposable to them. Unfortunately, resources are often scarce and their best works remain confined to the mind. In some cases, there is a sadder reality, completed monumental stunning works of sculpture that are stored in obscure locations throughout the city–out of public sight and off the radar of public appreciation. The prevailing sentiment is “wait and see”. In what exhibition can they showcase? How can I get this piece the recognition that it deserves? Where am I going to store it next? As such, these real constraints stifle their work and with it, the legacy of our city. Continue reading


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Tobacco Road According to the BBC’s Guide to Life, the Universe, and Everything

Surprisingly, H2G2, the BBC’s Guide to “Life, the Universe, and Everything“, has a neat profile of Tobacco Road, Miami’s oldest bar. The Brickell Village nightspot has been in business since 1912. According to the featured article Tobacco Road has:

“managed to survive everything from gangsters and the Depression to hurricanes and attempts by the city of Miami to shut it down. In 1982 it got a new lease of life when the new owners repositioned it as a blues bar, just as the nearby Brickell Avenue started to fill up with high-rise offices, hotels and businesses. It’s now a considerably successful place that hasn’t lost any of its old charm.”

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Young Cuban-Americans Softening Embargo Stance

In a recent study done by FIU with assistance from the Brookings Institute, it has been found that over half of Cuban-Americans favored unrestricted travel to Cuba. The poll still finds 57% in favor of the embargo, but the number has declined drastically, particularly among the younger Cuban-American population.

This isn’t surprising. The younger Cuban-American population has a convoluted view of the way Cuba was before 1959, how the revolution happened, and where the island country stands now. All the younger Cuban-American generation knows is that their parents and older relatives lost their properties, businesses, and freedoms to a communist dictator long ago. They know Castro is tantamount to Lucifer and that Cuba’s formerly prosperous society has been corroded by years of mismanagement and economic exploitation. The remnants of the past glory are safely guarded by the exiles’ moral community. This is the exile community’s standpoint.

I, as a young Cuban-American, long to visit the Caribbean island and see what it’s really like to feel Cuba’s gentle breezes and the warmth of its clear aquamarine waters. I’d like to witness the festive congas with the clanking sounds of kitchen utensils hitting pots and pans and Chinese flutes blaring. I’d like to stare up at the tropical mountains and admire the architecture and history of its cities. I would like to explore my family’s roots, which originate to the 1500’s and are traced to Jose Marti’s late wife (Carmen Zayas-Bazan) and son (Jose Marti Zayas-Bazan). I don’t care about the politics. The iron curtain that bisects the Florida Straits and the embargo that strengthens it have hindered my ability to fulfill any of these dreams, and I relish in knowing that over half of those surveyed agree that some changes, at least with travel restrictions, should be made.

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Museum Park Plans Questioned

According to Riptide 2.0 (The Miami New Times blog), Museum Park plans (Miami Art Museum and Museum of Science and Planetarium)are getting complicated by diverging viewpoints. At Wednesday’s public meeting in the PAC, a group called Neighborhoods United claimed that the plan did not include enough open park space. This was reiterated by several people in the crowd, including a group called Citizens Against Everything Bad. Some concern was based in part on an initiative that was voted on by City residents in 1974 that would ensure green space at Bicentennial Park.

These folks are thinking about an initiative that took place 34 years ago. 34 years ago the level of massive construction in Miami would have been unimaginable. Much has changed since then and basing their arguments on a 1974 vote seems like an archaic way of going about dealing with the current state of development affairs and planning for the future. This is not to say that past initiatives should be disregarded, but 34 years is a long time. In looking at Copper Robertson’s plans, there seems to be plenty of green space incorporated.

It is not a matter of discrediting the legitimate concerns of Neighbors United, but frankly, what is more important, more open space or larger world class centers of culture and learning? Apparently, these folks feel that the actual structures need to be scaled down in order to accommodate more green space. This would come at a high cost: a decrease in space for exhibitions, fewer lessons to be taught to our children, less art to be admired, etc. The emphasis needs to be on fostering culture and knowledge not having more space to have picnics and walk dogs. Certainly the plan should be balanced but more important are the museums themselves not the green space outside.

The City of Miami has several under utilized urban parks that need funds to improve their use. It would be a good idea to put pressure on the City to use added tax revenues for a more effective public parks master plan than it is to stress more green space in the proposed Museum Park. Bringing up these issues is constructive, but one must factor in the compromises that would have to be made in order to accommodate their requests. In doing so, most will see that the cost of facility reduction outweighs the benefits of more green space.


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Miami Misconceptions: The Banana Republic

Miami is often referred to as the Banana Republic. Cuban-American Republicans are sometimes called Banana Republicans. How charming. For several reasons Miami is despised by many. There are those that seem threatened by the notion of Hispanization in America and feel that Miami is at the forefront of it. These same folks claim to be protecting America’s social fabric and are proponents for a national homogeneous culture. Miami, of course, is a threat to this fictitious status quo. Naturally, such an unreasonable stance ignores the melting pot social roots of the U.S., but what more can you expect from these misguided folks? We live in a racist world, unfortunately. Miami cannot shake these prejudices. The irony is that those who feel threatened by America’s supposed Hispanization and Miami’s role in propelling it are right about one thing: Miami is a vision of what could be the future for the country.

The Hispanic minority has overtaken African-Americans as the largest minority group in the U.S. About half of Miami’s residents are bilingual and foreign born. Spanish is a language of commerce. Conversations of Latin American politics permeate the hot and humid air. On weekends cool breezes carry Salsa and Merengue tunes in the air. If you don’t speak Spanish in Miami, you may not be able to communicate with the gas attendant, grocery store clerk, etc. If you’re not from Miami you may think of Tostitos chips when you hear the word “Salsa” whereas a Miamian will think of dancing the night away. So, there are many aspects of Miami that make it vastly different from other U.S. cities. When something is different, it invites pessimistic points of view. But, Miami residents relish in the difference that is their social experiment city.

So somehow in all this rigmarole, Miami has been touted a Banana Republic by critics. What does this mean? Let Wikipedia inform you. It’s a derogatory description and serves to accentuate how Miami is perceived by many in the U.S. The term became especially popular during the Elian Gonzalez standoff. Miami took on the appearance of a semi-autonomous rogue state arrogantly defying Federal demands. The County mayor at the time, Alex Penelas, took a lot of flack for his defiance and ended up paying the price in his failed U.S. Senate bid. But this quasi-comical title shouldn’t be bothersome.

Miami was never supposed to be cookie cutter. The tropical city is a maverick. This title serves to reinforce this claim. It is the Banana Republic, by the way, that facilitates more trade between North and South America than any other city in the Union. This same Republic of Bananas offers the United States its best chance of securing the FTAA secretariat. It is the Banana Republic that is growing immensely in wealth and political clout and is the place where Europeans flock to most for vacation in the U.S. It is the most popular business venue in the United States for Latin Americans. It is one of the most exciting developing metropolis’ in the Western Hemisphere. It is the quintessential model city when it comes to embracing the Western Hemisphere’s various cultures. I guess being in the Banana Republic has it advantages—maybe that’s why outsiders critics are so upset.

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Miami is Latin America’s Sanctuary

As political instability continues to loom over South and Central America, Miami’s role as the main entry point for Latin immigrants continues to grow. Miami’s past absorbence of significant immigrant waves from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti during the mid to latter 20th century is well documented. However, Miami’s current role as a gateway to those fleeing strife and insecurity in their homelands has expanded and diversified.

The recent re-election of Hugo Chavez has set an ominous Socialist mechanism into motion in the oil-rich South American nation. Mr. Chavez has forcefully seized private lands, marginalized opposition to him, and seeks to nationalize all major utility companies and the oil industry. This gradual dissolution of the private sector is forcing the upper and middle classes to either accept the status quo or get out. Many of the wealthiest Venezuelans are already looking to South Florida, particularly Miami, as a way to security.

The pattern is set in history. The professional and educated classes leave and settle first. They set up their businesses as best as they can and purchase property. The middle classes soon follow. They compose the employee pool for the prior arrivals to hire from as well as the buyers market for the products and services being sold by the recent arrivals. In Miami, this happened from the 1960’s to the 1990’s primarily with the Cuban and Nicaraguan communities.

With the Spanish speaking foundation already set, new arrivals such as Venezuelans can feel uninhibited in their business practices. Already, Miami is home to the most foreign-born nationals of any major city in the world. This constitutes a sociological phenomenon that merits the highest level of attention. Venezuela is not the only unstable Latin American country that continues to emit waves of immigrants to Miami.

Since Miami is situated closer to Latin America than any other major U.S. city, has a massive Spanish-speaking population, and a vibrant economy, all other nations find the city an appealing sanctuary. Already, Miami is home to large communities of almost every single Latin and Central American country as well as Caribbean. The instability plaguing Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia are all leading to continued immigration to Miami. Argentina recently recovered from economic collapse but has yet to fully get back on its feet. Miami saw a substantial increase in immigration from Argentina, and subsequently, a rise in Argentine-run businesses—restaurants, bakeries, butchers, etc. Only Chile has seen relatively constant stability. Yet, there is still a large Chilean community in the city.

This pattern of constant instability has led to significant emigration for our continental neighbor to the south. Consequently, America’s southernmost metropolis has become the preferred sanctuary for South Americans fleeing civil strife and economic instability. Immigrants, as is clearly known from U.S. history, come with boundless ambition and determination. They work hard, build businesses, and add depth to the city’s political climate. They serve to further separate Miami from all other major urban centers in the hemisphere. Because of them Miami is the hemisphere’s only truly bilingual city, has the largest foreign born population in the world, and has a culture unlike any other U.S. city.

Miami’s residents are concerned with what happens in Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia and other Latin nations because events there affect the city. Nowhere else in the U.S. are city residents so preoccupied with hemispheric politics. Nowhere else in the U.S. are residents so open to change. Nowhere else in the U.S. can one hear, on a regular basis, every Spanish accent in the Hemisphere. Miami, the city on the edge of the continent, is truly one of a kind. As nation heads continue to negotiate the terms of an FTAA agreement, Miami continues to push to be the home of the secretariat. Should the FTAA come into existence and Miami be its home, then the city will hold the political and economic torch of the hemisphere. Something many claim is already the case.

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Art Basel Video Tour

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On Art Basel

NY Sun claims that Art Basel is the principal art event in the Hemisphere—dwarfing competitors.

Critical Miami has a great overview of Art Basel 06’ with some excellent pictures to match.

Oregon Live provides a day by day analysis of Art Basel.

France’s International Herald Tribune chips in with it own extensive article, which describes Art Basel as an art Costco for billionaires.

New York Magazine details a Moroccan Nights Art Basel event.

Bloomberg chips in with two articles: The art world descends upon Miami Beach and Russian art at Art Basel.

According to, this weekend at Art Basel, Beyonce and Jay-Z spent $40,000 on a chair!

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Chelsea—with Palm Trees

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Bigger and Better at Basel Miami

Staff Reporter of the Sun
December 1, 2006


Everything is expected to be bigger at the four-day international art fair Art Basel Miami Beach. That includes the crowds, the number of galleries, the sales — and, as always, the dominating presence of New Yorkers.

At the fair, which opens to VIPs on Wednesday and runs through Sunday, New York dealers will occupy 59 of 156 main booths at the Miami Beach Convention Center. No other city comes close: 11 galleries are coming from London (counting Gagosian Gallery twice), 10 from Berlin, six from Los Angeles, and one from Beijing.

Add the New York-based curators, advisers, and artists traveling to Miami, and it’s easy to see why next week South Beach will feel like Chelsea — with palm trees.

Coming off healthy auction sales in November, dealers are optimistic about their prospects. “Last year we sold many pictures above the million-dollar threshold. We’re hoping for the same this year. The market is strong right now,” a director of Acquavella Galleries, Nicholas Acquavella, said.

The frenzy of fair preparations reached a high pitch this week as dealers shipped off artwork and deliberated on where to install the works in their booths. Some build three-dimensional models and tape miniature color printouts of their works to the walls; others tape the outline of their booths on the floor of their New York gallery spaces. Others work it all out on paper or in their heads.

Dealers tend to create a cohesive presentation that appears more like a curated show than a storefront. The small closets in each booth are filled with works that will replace the ones that are sold.

“We’re in the throes of last-minute decision making,” the director of the Richard Gray Gallery on Madison Avenue, Andrew Fabricant, said Monday. By Tuesday, the works, including a David Hockney portrait, a Jim Dine sculpture, and a Joan Mitchell painting, were on their way. Galleries often select artists based on their work in shows and projects that are receiving attention. Sperone Westwater is bringing out two paintings and several drawings by Guillermo Kuitca, who’ll be in the spotlight when his first outdoor commission is unveiled at Miami’s Aqua, a luxury real estate development by Craig Robins. A show of his also just opened in Zurich; in the spring he will be representing Argentina in the Venice Biennale.

Mr. Kuitca, who is attending the fair for the first time this year, plans to keep a low profile there. “I am shy. I can’t be standing next to my work. It feels a little bit awkward for me,” he said.

The timing was also right for 303 Gallery to bring a new Doug Aiken piece, a month before his video work “Sleepwalkers,” featuring Tilda Swinton, Cat Power, and Donald Sutherland, is projected on the façade of the Museum of Modern Art.

Galleries such as Brooke Alexander Editions and Sean Kelly Gallery, both of which carry work by Lorna Simpson, are bringing it to satisfy demand generated by her nationally touring show, which is currently at the Miami Art Museum.

The fair is a time for galleries to show new artists. James Cohan Gallery is exhibiting “The Good War” by Alison Elizabeth Taylor, who had her first show at the gallery this fall.

Sean Kelly Gallery is showing Los Carpinteros, a Cuban duo that makes large works on paper and sculpture. The pair’s sculpture, “Pool Pool,” is a swimming pool in the shape of a pool table that contains 150 gallons of water. “The fair will be our chance to make this relationship public,” the executive director of Sean Kelly Gallery, Cecile Panzieri, said of the duo.

Mitchell-Innes & Nash is showing the work of figurative painter and recent Columbia MFA graduate Natalie Frank. “She’s a very bright woman, a tremendously talented painter who is a natural athlete when it comes to color,” Lucy Mitchell-Innes said. Her 2006 painting “Voila Les Americains” will be on view.

When it comes to contemporary art, setting up a booth can be more complicated than hanging paintings. On Tuesday, Studio 94’s artist Kelly Nipper tested for the first time a sculpture made of ice that will be displayed in a trailer on the beach. Part of Art Positions, her work is in a section of the fair devoted to younger galleries and artists.

“If our mobile works, it’s going to be amazing,” Studio 94’s director, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, said.

Also in Art Positions this year is the Zach Feuer Gallery, whose founder helped start the New Art Dealers Alliance fair, one of 11 satellite fairs that have sprung up around the primary fair. He will be showing a Berlin artist, Christoph Ruckhaberle, two of whose works sold at the Phillips de Pury contemporary art auction last month.

Even with the months of preparation, the fair itself, with its 12-hour days, is the most challenging. “It’s one of the hardest weeks of the year for us. It’s a lot of work,” Mr. Feuer said.

So what are New York collectors looking for? “I’m interested in seeing what is new, innovative, and significant,” the art collector and investor Donald Marron said. “I make certain to visit those art dealers who are my friends.”

Some collectors make a point of visiting galleries they don’t get to visit in person. That’s fine by New York dealers, who look at the fair as an opportunity to build new relationships with collectors from all over the world. New York dealers also make an effort to have materials that even their local collectors have not seen.

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