Beach Museum Ponders Ideas Festival
By Scott Blake
The Wolfsonian-Florida International University in Miami Beach is planning an annual event, beginning next March, to get people to think about the museum’s collections of some 120,000 objects mostly from 1885 to 1945 — the height of the Industrial Revolution through World War II — and how that period shaped the world today.
Tentatively named the Ideas Festival, the event may be a weekend of exhibits, speakers and activities centered on the Wolfsonian’s collections. Details have yet to be worked out.
“Doing an Ideas Festival is something we’d like to do, but right now there’s nothing definitive,” said Wolfsonian Director Cathy Leff. Whatever it turns out to be, “we’re going to pull off something exciting.”
As currently envisioned, Ms. Leff said, the goal of the event will be to “relate the things and ideas in our collection to issues and events in our time.”
The proposed event is part of what the Wolfsonian is doing with a five-year, $5 million grant it received in December from the Knight Foundation, which has a mission that includes fostering the arts.
“Our strategy around the arts in Miami is to seed grassroots organizations… and strengthen cultural institutions,” said Matt Haggman, the foundation’s Miami program director.
Opened in 1995 and joined with FIU two years later, the Wolfsonian is a museum, library and research center based at 1001 Washington Ave. in Miami Beach’s Art Deco District. Its focus is to explore the “propaganda arts,” which it defines as art in the service of an idea or ideology.
Its collections feature furniture; industrial-design objects; works in glass, ceramics and metal; rare books; periodicals; works on paper; paintings; textiles, and medals.
Some themes explored in the Wolfsonian’s collections, Ms. Leff said, are “the conflict between nature and industrialization” and “how government uses design and art to mobilize forces to get behind a national agenda or to demonize an enemy.”
For example, one current exhibit is titled “Modern Meals: Remaking American Foods from Farm to Kitchen.” It examines how people in the US began eating foods that were mass-produced in the first half of the 20th century. It uses images and artifacts to illustrate the movement of food from the field to the factory, supermarkets and the kitchen table.
Another current exhibit is titled “Women in Motion: Fitness, Sports, and the Female Figure.” It focuses on the increased participation of women in sports and other kinds of physical activity in the early 20th century as strides were made toward political, economic and social equality in the US and Europe.
The first festival is tentatively scheduled for March 14 through 16, and probably will be based at the museum’s Washington Avenue headquarters but may involve other venues, according to Ms. Leff.
“We’re trying to understand what we need to do so other people can pull from and use our collection,” she added.
The festival will be a small part of what comes out of the Knight Foundation grant, but much of grant will be used to enhance the museum’s digital and online offerings. The five-year plan involves creating world-class online resources of visual and material culture. The Wolfsonian will make a large part of its collection — hundreds of thousands of images and records — accessible to anyone around the world with an Internet connection.
The Wolfsonian has an annual budget of about $5 million. About $1.8 million comes directly from FIU, with the rest from grants and donations. Also, the museum has a small acquisitions budget to obtain pieces for its collection, but most of its objects are donated, Ms. Leff said.
“Museums need two-way communication because today’s audiences demand to be engaged,” Dennis Scholl, the Knight Foundation’s vice presidents of arts, said when the its grant was announced.
“The Wolfsonian’s plans for its online collection, coupled with enhanced outreach, will help draw more people, and more kinds of people, into its world-class offerings,” Mr. Scholl said.
Ms. Leff said the grant will help usher in the next phase of the museum’s development, including the proposed festival as a way to expand its connection to the local community.
“We are proud of the Wolfsonian and its achievements since being set in motion… by the foundation vision of Mitchell Wolfson Jr.,” FIU President Mark Rosenberg said when the grant was announced.
The Wolfsonian is at 1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. Admission is free Fridays from 6-9 p.m. At all other times, admission is $7 for adults; $5 for seniors, students with valid identification, and children 6 through 12; and free for Wolfsonian members, state university system of Florida staff and students with identification, and children under 6. The museum is open daily from noon to 6 p.m., Friday from noon to 9 p.m., and closed Wednesday. Details: (305) 531-1001 or www.wolfsonian.org.To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e-MIAMI TODAY, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.