Spotlight On: The Future of Arts and Culture Districts in Florida

by Bob Evans

I might dispute the claim that a river is the only feature missing from Tallahassee, but I won’t dispute that Johnny Cash lyrics always make a salient point. In a recent Emerging Leaders Blog Salon post at the Americans for the Arts ARTSblog, “Another Wide River to Cross: Incentivizing an Arts District in Tallahassee,” my colleague, Tim Storhoff, gives some excellent commentary as to why a centralized arts district can be a defining factor in the overall health of a city. The truth is that these arts and culture districts provide a community with a meaningful sense of place and purpose, the likes of which cannot be easily replicated.

Map of the Bradenton Riverwalk from http://www.realizebradenton.com

At the behest of the Florida Council on Arts and Culture, I’ve done some research on the subject of arts and culture districts. I found that these areas, intended to create a “critical mass” of places for cultural consumption, have 4 major outcomes:

  • Attracting artists and cultural enterprises
  • Fostering cultural development
  • Encouraging economic growth
  • Fulfilling community needs – both rural and urban

These outcomes are condensed from the National Association of State Arts Agencies Policy Brief on State Cultural Districts, which naturally also defines the state’s roles.  Currently, 12 states have enacted legislation for arts and cultural districts, but Florida is not among their ranks. Overall, I feel like the recognition, facilitation, and cultivation of these districts by the state is the most crucial part of the process.

Originally, I was unclear if the catalyst of these districts came from a grassroots or local effort or from the state; was it a top-down or bottom-up approach? Through my research, I discovered it was more of a growth from a younger program to an older program, where the criteria are established first, and grants, funding, and tax incentives are added later. The current models in states like Texas and Maryland support this.

Maryland is especially receptive to these districts, and has provided admissions and amusement tax exemption, income tax credit, and property tax credit for these districts, the most of any state. The benefits of these districts are astounding. Towson University conducted an economic impact study of these arts districts in Maryland, and found that “an estimated 1,621 jobs, $147.3 million in state GDP, and $49.8 million in wages were supported on average annually between 2008 and 2010.”

Florida has some excellent examples of arts and culture districts, from the Bradenton Riverwalk, to the Tampa River Arts and Channel Districts, Jacksonville’s CoRK District, Miami’s Design District, and on. But as of right now, there are no local or state systems to provide a forum for communication, nor are there direct tax incentives for these areas. If Tim’s dream comes true, there will be a vibrant district right in the middle of Tallahassee, and, as he theorizes, “If Florida’s policy makers can experience the benefits of an arts district firsthand, perhaps a statewide system can be implemented.”

Right now, it’s hard for anyone to see long term benefits of giving tax breaks, especially to relatively new programs. It’s going to take time, and we need to be cautious, which is exactly why states like Texas have adopted the certification-only approach without incentives. It’s a great way to test the efficacy of the program. But, as for the future, I’ll just have to defer back to Mr. Cash: “I don’t know. I can’t say. I don’t like it, but I guess things happen that way.

Spotlight On: Poetry for All at the O Miami Poetry Festival

by Tim Storhoff

The goal of the O, Miami Poetry Festival is for every single person in Miami-Dade County to encounter a poem. This event returns in 2013 to once again attempt to deliver poetry to all 2.6 million+ residents of Miami-Dade County during the month of April, which is National Poetry Month. Created by University of Wynwood with founding sponsor the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, O, Miami is both a celebration of contemporary poetry and an experimental project to turn a metropolitan area into a canvas for the literary arts.

In 2011, poems were flown behind airplanes, dropped out of helicopters, sewn into clothing, and attached to every single bus in Miami-Dade County. Events featured actors (James Franco); choreographers (Jonah Bokaer, Rashaun Mitchell); artists (Anne Carson, Sam Winston); and, yes, poets (W.S. Merwin, Tracy K. Smith, Raúl Zurita). The festival was covered nationally and internationally by The New Yorker, NPR’s Morning Edition, Dwell magazine, Best American Poetry, and the Associated Press, and chronicled in a new Knight Foundation report.

To continue trying to reach every person in Miami-Dade County this month, the festival organizers are undertaking a new series of projects and events to re-imagine what’s possible in the presentation of contemporary poetry, including:

  • A special celebration with Thurston Moore, lead singer of Sonic Youth; Richard Blanco, the Miami-raised poet who read at the 2013 Presidential Inauguration; and Megan Amram, a poet, comedian, and writer for the NBC show Parks & Recreation
  • A final weekend on South Beach that will feature readings and performances from the most diverse group of poets we’ve ever assembled, including Kevin Young, Chase Twitchell, Jean Portante, Jose Angel Leyva, Eduardo C. Corral, and Frank Báez
  • A book called “That’s So Miami!” published by the people of South Florida. Send us your poems that begin or end with the phrase #ThatsSoMiami and we’ll play them on WLRN 91.3 FM, post them online and select the best ones to go into the book.
  • “Poetry is Dead”: the first-ever poetry parade on South Beach featuring performances by well-known dead poets
  • A special “local poem” displayed pasted on 100 lampposts banners Will we ever see another month so full of poetry?”
  • Poems written by South Floridians flown behind airplanes
  • Brand-new “poetry films” commissioned from and created by those behind the Borscht Film Festival
  • A Tatoo + Poetry Night featuring legendary tattoo artist Duke Riley
  • A new dance + poetry piece by Merce Cunningham alumni Rashuan Mitchell and Silas Reiner commissioned and created for O, Miami
  • An opening ceremony with Miami legend Trick Daddy
  • The first-ever Miami Literary Trivia Night
  • An open mic reading series for locals
  • A “poetry soapbox”: everyday at 5 p.m., a poet will read on the front steps of The Betsy Hotel
  • A poetry-themed flash mob

“Today’s audiences demand to be engaged, and often that means taking art out of the symphony halls and into people’s everyday lives,” said Dennis Scholl, vice president/arts at Knight Foundation, whose art program inspired and funded the festival. “Whether you’re a poetry enthusiast or organizing a small music festival, the lessons from O, Miami will resonate.”

A new report commissioned by the Knight Foundation chronicles the rise of Miami’s art scene and the unorthodox, inaugural O, Miami festival. It also offers insights for any cultural organization trying to engage new audiences and reframe art for their communities. For some additional tips, check out O, Miami co-founder Scott Cunningham’s tips in Bringing Art to People: 8 Ways a Cultural Event can Transcend Genre, Geography and Demographics.

The O, Miami Poetry Festival will be taking place all throughout April, and you can visit their calendar for a list of scheduled events. If you’re a part of a cultural organization, we also encourage you to read the above reports and articles for useful information that can help us all in our goals to more successfully bring the arts and culture to all Floridians.

Spotlight On: Mapping Miami

by Lara Stein Pardo

Photograph near the MacArthur Causeway, where Zora Neale Hurston lived on a boat named The Challenger in 1950. Photo circa 2010 by Lara Stein Pardo.

Photograph near the MacArthur Causeway, where Zora Neale Hurston lived on a boat named The Challenger in 1950. Photo circa 2010 by Lara Stein Pardo.

Mapping Miami is a project about Miami’s cultural and artistic history. It is part of a larger Mapping Arts Project that ‘maps’ cities through places where artists have lived and worked. In Miami, we are beginning with a focus on the time period of the 1920s through the 1950s. While this was a particularly active time period for local and global events and the arts in Miami, it is also a time period that most people don’t know much about. This period included the Great Depression, World War II, the boom of Overtown in Miami, and also two major hurricanes which devastated parts of South Florida. Throughout all this change, the arts were active in Miami.

Did you know, for instance, that dramatist, writer, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston lived on a boat near the MacArthur Causeway for periods of time in between trips to Honduras? Or, that Billie Holiday maintained a room at a boarding house called Georgette’s Tea Room in Brownsville? Did you know that playwright Tennessee Williams staged A Streetcar Named Desire at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in 1956? What about the fact that Robert Frost owned a home in South Dade called Pencil Pines?  He even wrote a poem by the same name as the tall pines on the property inspired his work. These are just a few examples of the artists and places we are mapping in this project. Our map-in-progress shows these sites and more: http://goo.gl/maps/UPXm.

The Mapping Arts Project connects the arts, history, and the public in an innovative way. Inspired by my background as an artist and cultural anthropologist, I started the project in 2009. In 2010, Blackbird Arts and Research, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, was founded to support this work and other innovative projects that connect history, arts, and the public.  This project has received support by granting organizations, archives, and universities including the Miami-Dade Department of Cultural Affairs, the Deering Estate at Cutler Bay, HistoryMiami, the University of Miami, Arts of Citizenship at the University of Michigan, and Imagining America. They have helped the project to grow while providing much needed historical content, research assistance, and seed funding. We recently received a Community Grant from the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, and now we are seeking to raise funds from individuals to match the grant and develop the project.

Photograph of the Coconut Grove Playhouse, where Tennessee Williams staged A Streetcar Named Desire in 1956. Photograph circa 2013 by Lara Stein Pardo.

Photograph of the Coconut Grove Playhouse, where Tennessee Williams staged A Streetcar Named Desire in 1956. Photograph circa 2013 by Lara Stein Pardo.

Currently, we are redesigning our website so that we can share the wealth of information that we’ve gathered over the past several years. Our goals are to:

  • Connect arts, history, and the public by sharing valuable information in an open access format (free and online).
  • Build a well-designed website that shares information and images in a way that is easy to access, and looks good too.
  • People engage with history and the arts in new and fun ways.
  • Develop a platform for this kind of project so that more projects like this can be developed in the future.
  • Build on and connect resources already available, but may not be easy to find or access.
  • Showcase the importance of arts and history in Miami and other cities.
  • Link geography and the arts by using maps to tell the story of cultural arts history.
  • Reach broad audiences ranging from children to adults, locals to tourists, students to professionals, and more.
  • Inspire artists, writers, musicians, performers, dancers, and anyone interested in the arts, really, by sharing our rich cultural heritage.
  • and more!
Billie Holiday at Georgette’s Tea Room circa 1950, courtesy of HistoryMiami.

Billie Holiday at Georgette’s Tea Room circa 1950, courtesy of HistoryMiami.

Georgette’s Tea Room circa 2011, photograph by Lara Stein Pardo.

Georgette’s Tea Room circa 2011, photograph by Lara Stein Pardo.

If you would like to learn more or become a supporter of the project, we invite you to visit our page on Indiegogo: http://igg.me/p/296071/x/1899410. All contributors will become members of the project, and receive behind the scenes updates, invitations, and news. We also came up with some special perks to show you our thanks. We’re looking forward to including you, your story, and our history in the project.

This project, like the Culture Builds Florida campaign, highlights the diversity of the Miami community and its residents, creates connections to our history and heritage and reminds us that Florida is a special place to live and work. As part of this interdisciplinary project, we plan to share archival photographs and documents, information about the artists, essays, syllabi, lesson plans, tours, podcasts, and even more as we move forward. By making this information available and then doing the same for other cities, we will illustrate and emphasize the important role of the arts and artists to the development of our communities.