Art And Identity In South Beach

South Beach, South Beach, South Beach — for locals, not much more needs to be said. We made international news during the initial wave of the coronavirus, and yet again during Spring Break. With the curfew slowly ending in phases, we’re looking forward to seeing how things progress not only over Memorial Weekend, but for the rest of the year.

There are promising plans in place, but ones that may take a considerable amount of time to implement. Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber announced his 12-point plan to retool South Beach, in particular the Entertainment District, and one of his points caught our attention — expansion of “cultural budget” to support festivals like the Classical & Jazz Music Festival and an enhanced Art Deco Festival.

“Regular, modest and well curated activations consistently produced have the potential to favorably impact the conditions in our streets,” he noted.

We agree. And there’s more, which also gives us hope. We were recently excited to hear about several local artists presenting work in South Beach in late March, and that’s what we need to see. While expanded, organized artistic endeavors are crucial to the rebirth of a city — as Mayor Gelber proposed — we’re more interested in organic artistic growth that serves as the hallmark of a cultural destination. Wynwood, pre-Wynwood, is a perfect example, and we’re interested to see how South Beach adapts as it experiences what is best called an identity crisis.

The Biggest Hurdle

What sums up the challenge of South Beach is one of its gems, Lincoln Road. The clash of mainstream retail, disappearing local art, and empty storefronts has created an area in need of life. Oolite Arts, a Lincoln Road mainstay, announced its new home at 75 NW 72nd Street in Little River, where it will serve as an expanded studio space while offering classes and artistic programming. While still operating in South Beach, its days are numbered there. Set to move in 2023, the relocation of Oolite is a perfect example of the struggle South Beach will have retaining and maintaining viable, local arts programs.

With increased regulation in South Beach, does that even encourage the arts? Is it too late for an artistic rebirth? Here’s what we see: as South Beach struggles, it will eventually attract the same people who made it great — artists, performers, and free-thinking individuals who thrive as creators. They will find a way to make this identity crisis something that they can use as a tool, as inspiration, but that will take a few (or many) years.

As empty storefronts mount during the pandemic (pretty window dressing notwithstanding), it’s simply a shame that South Beach is not activated in a way that enhances the cultural reputation of Miami. What has experienced its ups and downs is now experiencing another “down,” and we’re watching closely to see where South Beach is headed.

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