Dade Cultural Task Force could be created to assess future of the arts
By Zachary S. Fagenson and Risa Polansky
As Miami's imperiled cultural community continues to struggle in the grip of an economic recession, Miami-Dade County may establish a group to assess how the arts could survive and grow during challenging times.
"We are working on a resolution to create a kind of task force on the arts to be able to evaluate the current status and anticipate development opportunities of the performing and visual arts in Miami-Dade County," County Commissioner Rebecca Sosa said. "The main objective will be to give us options and to recommend a plan of action to maximize effective use of available resources in order to best support the cultural life for the [county]."
While she didn't speculate on how cultural organizations' problems could be solved, leaving that up to the proposed committee, Ms. Sosa emphasized the need for a diverse group of experts from the private sector and the arts community "to depoliticize the taskforce to make sure they sit down, work on ideas and bring suggestions to the county commission."
As fundraising and revenue become priority No. 1, Mercedes Quiroga, provost of the New World School of the Arts, said the taskforce would have to considering merging some organizations to preserve the presence in the community.
"When you're looking at [any organization's] budget, you want to see that you don't have too many people responsible for one area," she said. "People should look at ways that they can partner to see how there can be less duplication of services or events or activities."
Seeking creative ways to reduce operating costs and including the entire community in the task force are also the roads to success, according to Mary Luft, executive director of performing arts company Tigertail Productions.
She suggested organizations collaborate on such simple things as printing marketing materials to reduce operating expenses.
"There's always ways for us to cut back," she said. "Maybe five of us could dedicate ourselves to one [printing house] and do all our work with them."
Along with that openness to cost-cutting ideas, she emphasized the importance of including all those who would be affected by the disappearance of a cultural group.
"This is a community problem," Ms. Luft said. "There are 1,000 not-for-profit organizations in Miami-Dade. That's a large part of the population as far as the audiences and the neighborhoods [they] represent."
Creating lasting partnerships and collaborations is also a path through the recession, said M. John Richard, president and chief executive officer of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami.
"There's so much power in South Florida to work in collaboration and leverage our resources," he said. "I believe the arts leaders should be focused on how we address our needs to work collaboratively and provide the best of all possible programming available to us and our community."
Meanwhile, Stephen H. Siegel, a lawyer and chair of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's Creative Industries Committee, said individuals outside government and the cultural organizations themselves should also be invited to sit on the task force.
"I think there has to be a very strong private-sector presence," he said. "The private sector is going to have to recognize the importance of these businesses to our overall economy and help figure out ways to get through these times."
While he cited the arts as a "critical component" of economic development in the area, he also encouraged scrutiny of organizations' future prospects.
"In this economic downturn, a very clear question is, "which groups are going to be able to make it on their own?'" he said. "Which ones are going to need to find alternative methods to continue operating? We have a fair amount invested in capital structures for, clearly, performing arts organizations, and how is the best way to efficiently use that to assist these groups?"
As Mr. Siegel emphasized the need to understand how the county's existing capital structures could be used, Silvia Karman Cubiñá, executive director of Miami Beach's Bass Museum of Art, said organizations need to balance their wants with their needs.
"It's a way of becoming creative [to] reduce your budget," she said. "I also believe this is a time to reassess how much overhead we really need and really assess what the cost of doing business is without cutting programming."
Like others, Ms. Karman Cubiñá said significant improvements could be made in the way organizations advertise and market themselves.
"I think all of us need help marketing," she said. "Maybe what the county could do is market museums as a very cost-efficient way for a family to spend a Saturday or Sunday."
While arts organizations discuss their own survival, Ms. Sosa said it would also be important to include supporters of the county's cultural community in the discussion.
"We welcome evaluating the needs of arts organizations.… Economically speaking, it makes sense to take a moment to say, where are we?" said Lorenzo Lebrija, Miami-Dade/Broward program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. "I think taking a moment to step back and look at where things are is important."
The troubled economy has impacted not only the arts community here but donors as well — including the foundation.
Still, he said, the foundation just kicked off its second round of the Knight Arts Challenge, a five-year, $40-million initiative to support local art organizations and fund art endeavors in South Florida.
As leaders of Miami's arts organizations look toward the proposed task force with hope, there is still much to be done before the proposed group's first meeting.
Ms. Sosa said she is awaiting suggestions for membership to ensure an inclusive task force and hopes to begin the legislative process to form the group once she receives the resolution wording from the county's legal department.
Creating the taskforce would require commission approval.