Miami Art Basel attracts the jet set of tourists, art collectors, fashion designers, curators aka the cool crowd to get a first glimpse of the next ‘it’ artist. Art Basel and the satellite fairs surrounding the event are a big slice of the Miami economy during the winter months and according to Neil Hall, architect and founder of Art Africa, artists would be naïve not to take advantage of it. Hall founded Art Africa in 2011 as a small fair of tents to showcase the works of artists in the African Diaspora during Art Basel. His idea sparked a larger push to highlight Black artists during the week and last year the Greater Miami Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, launched The Art of Black Miami, a week of events featuring exhibitions, talks and tours of historically Black neighborhoods in the Miami area. The city of Miami appointed Connie Kinnard as the Executive Director in 2014, and this is her first year overseeing the project. Activating spaces like Opa-locka, Liberty City, Little Haiti and Overtown is more than about getting Black artists exposure, it’s about reclaiming historically black neighborhoods in the face of gentrification.
“We’re trying to attract conventions and visitors to Coconut Grove, Little Haiti, Liberty City, Opa-lacka and Overtown where there is a strong African-American heritage,” Kinnard says. “We really want to start promoting those areas. The subset has potential to grow into something that will be a great jewel for the cultural promotion of Miami.”
Many of the artists who live in the communities don’t fit in the parameters of Art Basel Miami, either they are not represented by galleries and there are few Black art galleries to represent them. But when people think of Miami they think of multi-cultural. Though there is a predominant Cuban and and South American community in Miami, Kinnard wants to bring awareness to the historical significance of the Black communities.
“The city was thinking there needs to be a department within the agency that proactively did things to create an awareness within the communities that may not get promoted.”
The first year of Black Art of Miami there were only 25 art exhibits curated over the time frame of Art Basel. This year is the second year and there are 45 exhibitions. The numbers prove there is a niche for Black artists and a void that needs to be filled. Hall says when Art Africa started in Miami it was one of two major events highlighting Black artists, currently there are more than 20 distinct spaces with the intent of giving Black artists and art exposure. He supports the Art of Black Miami and the empowerment it brings to the communities.
“We have to find a more sophisticated outlet other than rap that has to do with art and culture,” Hall explains. “The initiative that they took is very positive. Buildings are coming up all around us and it is important for us to become a part of the gentrification.”
Hall explains that while gentrification isn’t a bad thing, he believes the Black people should work on gentrifying their own neighborhoods.
“It doesn’t always have to be outsiders or others who gentrify,” Hall says. “We tend to runaway from ourselves.”
Art Beat and Little Haiti
Art Beat Miami launched in 2008 and focuses on Little Haiti as an art and cultural destination. Art Beat Miami manages the Little Haiti Mural Project curated by Yo Space, an artistic studio in the neighborhood. The project involves painting murals on the walls of businesses in the area. Last year there were 19 murals and this year there are 10. On December 2nd, Art Beat Miami hosted a talk with artist Edouard Duval Carrie, who is exhibiting at the
Little Haiti Cultural Center and is curating an exhibit at the Miami Mountains Foundation. Joann Milord, Executive Director of Art Beat Miami, says the response is an effort to preserve the Haitian community in the area.
“We started because we saw Little Haiti was becoming a cultural and artistic hub, there are galleries and we wanted to showcase the culture,” Milord says. “Haitians began coming in the late 60’s and there was a big influx in the late 80’s. It ‘s one of those neighborhoods where you can get Haitian goods that you can’t find in the mainstream stores and shops.”
Little Haiti also known as Lemon City is home to Toussaint Louverture Monument Park, Little Haiti Cultural Center and is decorated with cultural landmarks. Haitians escaping the political and economic situation of the island nation thrived in the area. Now the area is facing gentrification and Art Beat Miami is using the creative culture to keep it accessible to the Haitian community.
“It’s a form of gentrification,” Milord says. “Artists are moving from places like Lincoln Road on Miami Beach into neighborhoods like Little Haiti because they are cheaper.”
Overtown aka “Colored Town” is the new cool
The neighborhoods are also in close proximity to the beach and are havens for artists. Hall says those benefits are exactly what is attracting the cool kids to the neighborhood and the new cool should be harnessed by the Black community.
“I see artists as a catalyst for developers. The artist goes into any space and once they start to create the change it becomes a cool space and when anything is cool people want to be there. It shifts the paradigm before developers take ownership,” Hall explains. “Creatives need to have our community and understand the importance of having a Black space; it’s an attraction. It’s part of our DNA.”
The historic Overtown was an epicenter of entertainment and culture during the segregation years. The neighborhood was the hub of the Black economy in Miami and South Florida from it’s creation in 1896. Named “Colored Town,” Overtown was home to Black businesses, libraries, hospitals, nightclubs and the Lyric Theatre, where Art Africa is presenting exhibitions. It was popular among Blacks and whites hosting acts such as Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker. During their travels icons such as Zora Neal Hurston, Jackie Robinson and WEB Dubois found solace in the Black owned hotels. In 2015, with a booming cultural Renaissance, Hall says the areas are poised to become a reflection of their former glory.
“We are a big deal, but we take ourselves not so seriously. We have to take ownership of our brand. One thing we have is we’re very creative. We survive on our creativity,” Hall reiterates. “We have an opportunity to bring creativity as a driving force and artists are the creative force that moves things.”