When I made the move from New York City to Miami at the turn of the century (insert drama), the running joke went something like this: ‘what’s the difference between a Miamian and bacteria? Bacteria need a culture in which to grow!’
Fast forward a couple decades and well, Miami’s vice may no longer be a complete lack of culture. Just as we’ve traded Ace Ventura: Pet Detective for the Oscar-winning Moonlight, we’ve upgraded our expectations when it comes to things enlightening. We’ve grown—exponentially, both in population and cultural cravings.
Miami-Dade County went from around 2.3 million full-time residents in 2000 to an estimated three million today. I’m no mathematician but that’s a sizeable increase. And the number of galleries, museums and events have grown too. As have the number of ‘districts’ dedicated to the arts—from Hialeah to Wynwood.
And then there is the omnipotent barometer of all things culture in Miami and the Beaches—Art Basel—two words that for some conjure foreboding gridlock while for others the charming chime of cash registers (do they still chime?) and for others still, an infusion of pARTies (I could hardly resist). I’m usually stuck precariously between the gridlocked and the pARTy hunter; ah purgatory I imagine.
To the delight of so many, Miami and the Beaches raise some serious dough come Basel season, that first week in December when everyone is either an art connoisseur, party aficionado or one of the ‘grumpies’ joining the chorus of horn-tooting-bumper-to-bumper motorists cursing Miami’s snobbery that makes taking public transportation, no matter how deficient, a capital crime. For at least those few days, the magic of Miami is all but lost on anyone without the good fortunate of a hovercraft.
Art Basel, or simply Basel as we see no need for first names, has a way of inveigling A-listers, giving us mere mortals glimpses of the rich and famous. Hell, sometimes we even get to breathe the air they exhale.
But then, just like magic, the Basel mayhem is replaced by the familiar monotony of life on the grind. Poof, the art evaporates. It’s like a scene from some Hollywood flick where tumbleweed replaces once vibrant towns—overnight.
Tents, some of which took months to erect, become skeletal reminders of life amped to announce importance, being. Traffic returns to ‘normal,’ replete with the ubiquitous middle-finger and the omnipresent ‘inoperable’ turning signals, or worse, a left indicator when the driver points car right. And the parties, well, they seem to get shelved until the next coming of Basel. Not that I’m complaining.
Well, actually I am. Basel is becoming less about art and more a verb synonymous with parties—at least here in Miami. Let’s not forget Art Basel is more than Miami. Oh, how we have a way of reducing the world to the confines of our zip code.
And don’t get me wrong, as someone who’s had a career in the arts, I appreciate the infusion of culture on steroids almost as much as I do the luster of the almighty Basel dollar. What I appreciate less, is the near-futile search for meaningful entertainment once Basel leaves town, taking with it resolute notions of art and culture.
Yes, we have museums and galleries and other beacons of refinement but where is the serious steadiness of let’s say New York or LA or London when it comes to culture as an expression of maturity?
As the mother of millennials (yes, I’m that old), it’s becoming quite the task to find substantive enrichment anywhere in the 305, despite the proliferation of the aforementioned ‘arts districts.’ What about those of us with an appetite for culture beyond Basel?
Perhaps, just perhaps change will come with the influx of ‘new’ Miamians, you know those northeasterners with pockets deep enough to escape the new SALT regulations. Last year alone, Florida received more movers than any other state, and according to the US Census Bureau, the majority, nearly 64,000 people, came from New York.
It’s not hard to imagine that New York’s exodus could be our cultural gain, a boost to our somewhat flaccid year-round cultural calendar.