Miami cultural community reinvented itself in pandemic
As one of the main industries disproportionally affected by the pandemic, the cultural arts community had to find new ways to reinvent itself and find unique ways to bring back the arts.
After more than a year of reimagining how to connect artists with audiences, Miami Dade College’s Live Arts Miami has been presenting and producing breakthrough interactive experiences with the help of interdisciplinary artists like Fereshteh Toosi and their work on Oil Ancestors: Metaphysical Hotline, a one-of-a-kind, immersive telephone theater experience designed for an audience of one.
“I have always been very impressed by the care they puts into all of their work and so much of their work is about personal experiences, and personal encounters,” said Kathryn Garcia, Live Arts Miami’s executive director. “And having worked with them through the pandemic, I was really taken by how they translated that to these very intimate, one-on-one phone conversations.”
Toosi’s Oil Ancestors’ overall initiative was inspired by their experiences as a first-generation immigrant of Iranian and Azeri heritage, and how they feel petroleum imperialism has defined the contemporary relationship between their ancestral homeland and the US, particularly conflicts and resource extraction impacting many Caribbean, South, and Central American countries that are represented among the immigrant diaspora in Miami.
Metaphysical Hotline’s immersive telephone theater experience, which starts June 9, will seek out 24 curious, open-minded volunteer participants for a research study about power and responsibility in an era of rapid global change, all while in the comfort of their homes.
“In the piece for Live Arts Miami, it takes a broader look at people’s responsibilities, and in the midst of this ecological crisis we’re in now. The idea is that it’s an interactive audio and time traveler experience,” Toosi said. “ I based it on the practice of seances. In this case, it’s a little more like psychic hotlines that were happening back in the ’80s and ’90s. The call will then take on the format of making contact with other generations through the telephone.”
Thinking about ecology and environmental issues and the climate crisis, people need to be aware of what precedents have been set before and what actions have happened that lead to the crisis currently taking place, Toosi said. “And also, what is the legacy we want to leave behind for the future generations?”
O’ Miami Poetry Festival’s founder and director Scott Cunningham said the work being done at Bookleggers Library has increased access to books throughout Miami-Dade, with a variety of free programs featuring local authors, artists and performing arts professionals. “There’s no one in Miami with a program remotely like theirs,” he said.
Bookleggers Library is a nonprofit mobile library that expands access to free books as a way of building community. With its headquarters at Bakehouse Art Complex at 561 NE 32nd St., the mobile community library offers “Storytime for Grownups,” a weekly program in which writers and artists read short stories on Instagram, monthly pop-up events, “New Bookbike,” a library on wheels being driven by local artists stopping at various locations and providing street performances and free books; and the recent grand opening of its first store, called Beach Reads, at 1600 Washington Ave. in Miami Beach.
“We’re a library that functions outside of the (Miami-Dade County) Public Library System,” said Nathaniel Sandler, Bookleggers’ founder and CEO. “We get out into the streets and the community and give away free books, and we run the range from going to bars and galleries to homeless shelters and prisons with a mix of artistic and creative work.”
Creating new programmings like the three-wheel Bookbike and weekly artist readings on Instagram, Mr. Sandler said Beach Books, which is open Sundays from 1 to 7 p.m., is another extension the library will use to reach more people.
“It’s a mix of a tourist store and a free bookstore,” he said.“We have towels, sunscreen and shot glasses on one side and free books on the other side. This was how we pivoted and were able to bring books directly to people during the pandemic.”
The Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami’s (MOCA) executive director Chana Budgazad Sheldon said, she has been excited about Fringe Projects’ work in downtown Miami.
“Fringe Projects is an experimental public art initiative that offers artists the opportunity to realize site-determined projects and often explores less-conventional spaces with context-specific interventions, installations and performances,” she said. “They recently unveiled a gorgeous new work by Dominican Miami-based artist Charo Oquet called Points of Joy. The vibrant sculpture celebrates the Afro-Caribbean roots of Miami’s Latinx diasporic culture.”
Artist Charo Oquet sculptures are part of Fringe Projects’ “PUBLIC COLOR,” an outdoor exhibition of eight newly commissioned public art projects by seven contemporary artists of Caribbean descent including April Bey, Morel Doucet, Mark Fleuridor, GeoVanna Gonzalez, Johanne Rahaman and Kathia St. Hilaire.
Using Miami as the context, the art installations have created site-specific artworks that explore themes and experiences that inform collective urban life as viewed through their diasporic lenses, said Deborah Lehman Di Capua, Fringe Projects’ executive director and curator.
Curated along with Pérez Art Museum Miami’s María Elena Ortiz, the exhibition addresses topics ranging from cultural mythologies, personal narratives and historical realities. Taking place throughout downtown Miami and the Miami Design District, PUBLIC COLOR illustrates the importance of making diverse voices present in public art, Ms. Di Capua said.
“Initially, we were looking to work with artists who were living and working in the Caribbean,” she said. “But with the pandemic, we shifted gears and six of the seven artists are local and are addressing all types of issues that are not necessarily related to the Caribbean or postcolonial critique, but very much related to their cultural roots.”
Fringe Projects has always worked in the public realm, but this new public spaces exhibition is one of the largest projects the art institution has taken on, Ms. Di Capua said, “in the sense that we were doing eight projects in three months as opposed to three projects over the course of a month and a half.”
Before the pandemic, Fringe used inside public spaces like storefronts or commercial spaces, she said. “This year, we wanted everything to be visible and able to be experienced from the outside.”