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By Hunter Braithwaite
Photography by Gary James | January 2, 2015 | Culture
Miami has a growing number of vigorous artist residency programs aimed not only at fueling creativity, but also the city’s cultural legitimacy.
Alexis Diaz at Fordistas. The Puerto Rican-born artist studied drawing and painting, but soon left the studio for the street. “Art is for the people,” he says, pointing out the fact that a city wall will be seen by infinitely more eyes than a painting for sale in a gallery. Today Diaz is internationally known for his surreal zoological mash-ups painted on city walls. For instance, in Vienna he painted a submarine made up of an octopus, a fish, a bird, and a human hand. Although he travels constantly these days, a few months at the Fordistas Residency Program gave him some much-needed time to relax and reflect on the past few years. “Wynwood launched my career,” he says of his experience painting a mural in 2011 that led to invitations to take part in international street art gatherings. “Wynwood is a place where hundreds of thousands of people acknowledge street art. People come from all over.”
People say Miami is a transient place as if that’s a bad thing. This city, like all cities, is built on the whir of people and ideas. Nowhere is this more necessary, or more vital, than in the art world. As artists fly in and out of Miami, a handful of local organizations are doing their best to let them stay just a little longer to, yes, create art, but also to impact the city’s cultural fabric.
Kathryn and Dan Mikesell have decided to house artists in a leafy neighborhood a stroll away from Biscayne Bay. Their Fountainhead Residency, which operates out of a 1950s Miami modern house in Morningside, hums at all hours, seven days a week, as artists from all over the globe paint in the garage, write computer programs in the living room, and hold potlucks in the kitchen. Since 2008, more than 300 artists have passed through, coming from places like South Africa, China, and Estonia, staying for four to eight weeks, exposing their art to Miami’s palm-fronded horizon.
Travel is covered, as is shelter, “as is alcohol,” jokes Kathryn, who makes a point to press-gang the artists into a very busy social calendar. Those trips to parties and openings often lead to new opportunities. “The Miami artist community is very open and interested in communicating and potentially collaborating with residents,” says Dan. In lieu of payment, the couple asks for a token work of art.
Toni Meña at The Fountainhead Residency. Meña was born in El Salvador in 1972 with “three dimensions in his blood,” as his grandfather was a longtime sculpture teacher. But it wasn’t until the artist returned home after a decade in Europe (he studied painting at the University of Barcelona) that his work took on its present form. Confronted with pollution clotting the once-pristine shores of his homeland, he began utilizing garbage as sculptural material. Using techniques of assemblage pioneered by Arman and other artists associated with Nouveau Réalisme (Europe’s version of Pop), Meña began gathering plastic, sorting it by color and look, and condensing it into what he calls “accumulations.” This fall, he brought 80 pounds of trash with him for his six-week residency at the Fountainhead, which provides artists with affordable, flexible studio space and, in some cases, housing. Those objects, and others he found while working on South Beach, will come together to form an installation looking at the ecological and aesthetic effects of floating islands of plastic in the world’s oceans. 7338 NW Miami Ct., Miami, 305-776-8198
The Mikesells plan a year in advance, filling the rooms with artists whose work speaks to them personally, or who have been recommended by an intimate (if far-flung) art world coterie. Hew Locke, whose hanging installation of toy boats, For Those in Peril on the Sea, filled the lobby of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, stayed at The Fountainhead Residency.
Kathryn says she’s looking for “an openness to diversity. You’re living with people you haven’t met. You have to be inquisitive.” But she equally may be talking about her adolescent son, Galt, and daughter, Skye. “Our children are seeing the world, first hand, through the artists’ eyes.” This interaction goes into overdrive during Miami’s busy season, when the residency spills over into the Mikesells’ home. “For us, it’s a way of life,” Kathryn says about putting up artists in her guest bedroom. “To bring people into our home is an honor.” This openness also extends to the community—visitors are welcome at the Fountainhead, although appointments should be made before popping in for a studio visit.
A few miles to the south, in the diamond grit of Miami’s downtown, Chris Cook samples a microbrew at The Corner, the art scene’s watering hole, a stone’s throw from PAMM, across the street from CIFO (Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation), and downstairs from Cannonball, the arts agency that he runs. Cannonball began in 2003 as LegalArt, a legal advisory firm offering pro-bono or cut-rate help to artists. Since Cook took over in early 2012, the budget has more than doubled to $540,000, and the organization now also offers grants and hosts the Research.Art.Dialogue seminar series as well as a residency. Why expand a law clinic into a rooming house? “Miami, like any city, needs a constant infusion of different points of view, different ways of working,” says Cook.
Yemenwed at PAMM. The rotating group Yemenwed is hard to pin down, shifting its focus and aesthetic from commission to commission. The art collective was formed by three artists (it now consists of six) in New York City in 2006; in 2014, they came to Miami three times as part of the Pérez Art Museum Miami’s Researcher-in-Residence program. One of the members of Yemenwed, Paul Kopkau, praised the residency, saying that it “has given us time, and more resources than we’ve ever worked with before.” Working within an institution has its benefits, and it also has its challenges. For its three visits, Yemenwed held a lecture, a lecture with a performance, and finally, “Heavy Flow,” a high-production spectacle that imagines the tidal inundation of PAMM. It’s not acting out a fantasy, but rather responds to a long history of artists making works about museums. “We wanted to do something based on Ed Ruscha’s painting The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire,” says one of the members. below, from left: Yemenwed members Megha Barnabas, Melissa Ip, Busy Gangnes, Paul Kopkau, and Jonathan Turner (not shown: Shawn Maximo). 1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, 305-375-3000
Upstairs are six units, constantly filled with a rotating group of artists, writers, and musicians, as well as an airy communal kitchen and a classroom. Each resident receives a travel stipend, monthly pocket change (between $500 and $1,000), a material supplies budget, and technical and administrative support.
Cannonball’s residency is a blend of out-of-towners, who stay one to three months, and locals, who live in the spaces for about a year. Says Cook, “The locals interface with visiting residents—it’s a benefit for everyone.” To him, that “everyone” includes Dade County. “When people come into town for a month, and they start to unpack Miami’s context, when they go back, they’re Miami’s ambassadors.”
Like The Fountainhead Residency, Cannonball thrives off partnerships. One of the biggest is with PAMM, which sometimes houses its visiting Researcher-in-Residence at Cannonball. Some might ask why a museum is getting involved in the residency game. Emily Mello, PAMM’s deputy director of education and public programming, explains that “museums are interested in residencies for a kind of sustained engagement with artists that isn’t just about the final product.”
James Weingrod at YoungArts. Weingrod is more than happy to spend eight weeks making work in an “enormous, massive, infinite studio” on the YoungArts campus, where he was in residence this fall, especially because his art is all about space. The universe is the topic in this emerging artist’s work, which ranges from painting and drawing to sculpture and video installations. “I’m honored and humbled to be a part of this program,” says Weingrod, who splits his busy schedule between Brooklyn and Providence, Rhode Island. “I’m not an insular artist. I need to be inspired by people, by other artists making art. In Miami’s vibrant cultural landscape, I can do that.” 2100 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, 305-377-1140
The Researcher-in-Residence program brings artists, curators, and other creative professionals to Miami to develop or to reflect on PAMM’s programming. Examples include experimental curator Guillaume Désanges and Yemenwed, a rotating group of performers. According to Mello, the program asks how institutions can generate or cultivate ideas and not just house them.
Over in Wynwood, Alex Fernandez-Casais and his wife, Bibi Pestana, partnered with South Florida Ford to create the Fordistas Residency Program, which focuses on local and internationally celebrated street artists, allowing them to live and work in and trade influences with South Florida and its local culture. “Miami is very inspirational; it’s a cultural epicenter,” says Fernandez-Casais. “To provide the opportunity for people with unique points of view to express their ideas of the city is very important.”
For the 2014 program, street artists Axel Void, 2ALAS, Jufe, Pastel & Elian, Jaz, 2501, and Alexis Diaz were provided with a month-long residency to develop their work. At the end of the year, all of the artists come back to create a group exhibition called “Friends and Family.” The residency covers all of the artist’s expenses; additionally, the program takes care of all the promotions and marketing for the resulting exhibition. In return, the artist creates an affordable limited-edition item sold to benefit a local charity.
A world away from urban Wynwood is a residency surrounded by sawgrass, sky, and alligators. The Artists in Residence in Everglades (AIRIE) program was started in 2001 by painter Donna Marxer and expanded several years ago, refocusing on contemporary art and writing. Today, there are 12 monthlong slots available for a live/ work studio with a screened-in porch. Unlike other residencies, AIRIE doesn’t provide a stipend, but it does connect visiting artists and writers with geologists, hydrologists, and other scientists doing work in the Everglades, a set of relationships that provide a “backstage pass” to nature, in the words of Executive Director Deborah Mitchell.
AIRIE is quite competitive, fielding 87 applications in 2014 for this year’s schedule. While there are exceptions, the most successful projects consider the environment of the park in some way. For example, in April, the Brooklyn based photographer Alan Winslow is coming to shoot diptychs of local birders and the birds they follow. As part of the project, AIRIE is connecting Winslow with the Audubon Society. Typically, artists will present part of their work locally.
Packard Jennings at Cannonball. Jennings’s diverse practice examines popular culture in a number of humorous and subversive ways. He created a series of fallen rapper Pez dispensers, including death masks of Eazy-E, The Notorious B.I.G., and Tupac Shakur, and attempted to get Pez to manufacture them. (It declined.) In 2008, he distributed 80,000 copies of a replica of The New York Times with the hoax headline "Iraq War Ends." Although the Oakland-based artist was unsure if he would enjoy Miami, he has extended his residency stay at Cannonball to continue several video projects. For one, he created a parody art residency orientation video for Cannonball that began by praising the neighborhood’s nightlife scene (Cannonball is located downtown near clubs Space and E11even), until the videographer witnesses a violent altercation at The Corner and then fees towards the Everglades. Jennings says that his stay at Cannonball is his most productive time in years. “I’m aware of how helpful residencies are in terms of clearing your plate, dedicating time to your practice, and relaxing, but I’m always surprised at how much work I actually get done.” 1035 N. Miami Ave., Miami, 786-347-2360
One of the most potentially dynamic programs is just now getting off the ground. Founded by Ted Arison more than 34 years ago, YoungArts is an arts advocacy institution for students that has helped mentor and shepherd about 20,000 alumni; its campus includes the historic Bacardi building and will boast a Frank Gehry–designed master plan.
As it expands nationally, YoungArts has launched its Residency in Visual Arts program in Miami. Each year, three emerging or mid-career visual artists are selected to stay for three to 12 weeks. They are given housing and up to $10,000 to realize a project. At the end of their stay, the new art is displayed. The program is brand-new, but artists like Suzanne McClelland are already receiving the chance to work with the historic midcentury architecture. And with a new restaurant by Stephen Starr in the works, the campus, and the residency, is shaping up to be one of Miami’s most lauded.
YoungArts is yet another example of an organization embracing the residency model. “I see us playing a role in increasing the cultural dialogue in Miami,” says President and CEO Paul T. Lehr. Jorge Pérez, whose Related Group real estate development company has partnered with YoungArts, seconds this. “This program is an important step in solidifying our legacy of bringing art into the community, building better cities, and supporting the growth of emerging artists,” he says. “Collaborating with YoungArts will give us a wider reach in supporting artists around the country, and it will enrich the local cultural landscape by creating a platform conducive to dialogue.” So there you have it. Time to mingle.