Welcome to Miami's huge party — oh, and enjoy the art too
By Michael Lewis
If you're in town for Art Basel
Miami Beach, our community's ever-expanding movable feast, welcome.
I guess that's my sole responsibility as an official Host Committee member: to say welcome. Job finished.
On the other hand, if you're here for Art Basel Miami Beach, you might be reading this at 3 a.m. after already being welcomed at the main fair, any of 23 or so satellites — this thing is so big nobody is sure exactly how many art-related fairs go on simultaneously — and some of the hundreds of parties we'll host all week.
So undoubtedly you've already been more than adequately welcomed to our globally famed and internationally attended fair.
Nonetheless, I can't tell you how vital you and your fellow visitors are — pre-event estimates were about 40,000 of you attending the main event at the Miami Beach Convention Center alone.
You're important to us on any number of levels.
First, we're proud to be a hub of the contemporary art world where serious dealers and serious collectors eagerly meet over million-dollar sales. A quarter-century ago people were calling Miami a cultural wasteland. You add proof that we're anything but.
Second, you've united the beaches with the mainland. This art event is so big that it stretches from Miami Beach into Wynwood and the Design District in Miami proper. Anything that gets all of this county on the same page to do anything is a major accomplishment. And, if we can do it for art, why not for other things?
Third, we're really hospitable people. We like visitors, especially worldwide art lovers who come with bulging wallets and a penchant for sophisticated partying. We really hope you'll come back again and again, and not just for the art fairs, either.
For another thing, we're happy that you beautiful people — not just the art on display — are magnets who bring about 1,300 journalists who are going to tell the globe how great it is to be in Miami in the winter (or any other time, for that matter, but that's a story for another day).
Then, too, we're ecstatic that not only are you filling hotel beds — most of our luxury hotels were booked solid months in advance at top rates — but that some of you will decide to buy a condo here for longer future stays (yes, we have just a few thousand condos left; better hurry before they're all gone — we should be so lucky).
And, following the familiar Miami pattern, some of you who buy condos for occasional visits become formal residents over time (remember, no income tax in Florida). And that's often followed by bringing your business here, buying one that's already local or starting one in Miami. Not only will you live here, you'll create jobs.
But that's all putting the cart in front of the Art Basel Miami Beach horse. The main fair, now in its sixth year, provides the horsepower that has pulled in all those satellite fairs — powerful enough, for example, to drag the 18-year-old Art Miami fair from its old January dates to coincide with this week's hoopla.
It's a pretty powerful horse, is the Art Basel Miami Beach machine.
While organizers are tighter lipped than the Secret Service, each of the 220 gallery booths at the main fair alone will lease for some $25,000 to above $50,000, meaning operator MCH Swiss Exhibition will probably rake in about $8 million in booth rentals. Add things like $30 tickets and sponsorships by the likes of UBS, Cartier, BMW and more, plus concessions and the sideshow space rentals, and this is a big one-week business — perhaps $12 million for MCH.
And that doesn't count the art sale proceeds to dealers from five continents at the main show and hundreds at the other fairs — sanctioned and independent — that dot not only Miami Beach but the mainland.
We have you, fair fair visitors, to thank for this economic whirlwind.
And many of you are really here for the art, too.
Many, but surely not all. "…you see people you haven't seen in ages," the Wall Street Journal on Saturday quoted Tamara Mellon, CEO of Jimmy Choo. "It's all laughter and fun — the whole thing is like a sophisticated, grown-up spring break!"
That's it: welcome to adult spring break. This community decades ago left the college partying to smaller beach towns to our north. Now we have our big, grown-up art break.
It's also given a break to local entrepreneurs. Craig Robins just sold Art Basel Miami Beach 10% of his Design Miami exhibition, which runs in the Design District during the Art Basel extravaganza (that's what the New York Times calls our fair, an extravaganza. Another NY Times writer just calls it a Lollapalooza — no hyperbole here).
Everyone wants to get into the act — although the dwntwn people are lamenting that they don't have funds to put up signs or banner mass transit to let you Art Basel visitors know all about dwntwn. (Hint to the confused: dwntwn is right where Downtown Miami used to be, but now it's hip, trendy and unadvertised.)
Fortunately for Miami Beach, it's already in the act: its name is tied to the main event.
And you and your fellow visitors are kind enough to show a recalcitrant Miami Beach city government just how important its convention center can be — and how much more it could aid the economy if the city finally agrees to upgrade it. With an upgrade, more globally important events bringing highly desirable visitors would make Miami Beach a base instead of going to some unmentionable sunbelt cities with really modern convention space.
So, welcome, enjoy our community as well as the art, and come back soon, y'all. We're counting on you, big time.