Art Basel in Miami Beach. © Art Basel. (Courtesy: Art Basel).

MIAMI—Tomorrow  Art Basel Miami Beach 2021 and its flotilla of art fairs, along with events bundled into the ever-burgeoning Miami Art Week, is to open its doors to the first in-person viewing since 2019. Invitation-only viewings have already begun on Tuesday, November 30, with an exclusive vernissage scheduled for today. The fair is open to the public through December 4. 

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As excitement has steadily mounted for the return of an in-person Art Basel Miami Beach, many are recalling how the first Art Basel Miami Beach had to be postponed one year after 9/11. This year we are, once again, anticipating a major cultural event following an international catastrophe — a perfect time to take stock and consider how has the cultural landscape reinvented itself since then?  

It is worth noting that this year’s mega art fair reaches the city vastly transformed from its debut edition in 2002.

For starters, pioneering art galleries like Emerson Dorsch and Fredric Snitzer Gallery have left their former neighborhood of Wynwood for other locations, while Wynwood has become a bustling mecca for street art, restaurants, and retail. After Art Basel reached our shores, greater Miami’s art scene has not only expanded but blossomed with exuberance, nurtured by deep-pocketed resources that weren’t available pre-Basel.  

This cultural sea-change has happened in a place as remarkable for its sun-kissed glamour as for its mind-boggling contrasts. Yes, we have multi-million dollar condos causing our skyline to sparkle, but amid all the high-end glitter, we also have a severe crisis in affordable housing. Exacerbating that is the climate crisis that’s flooding our overburdened streets and wreaking havoc on Biscayne Bay. Along with the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement has been shining an unblinking light on our racial inequities. 

For years, Miami persists as a seductive city of the very good and the very bad. In the very good column: an art community that was mistakenly seen as chiefly a “fun in the sun” destination before Basel, now added four art museums since 2002. Although some exhibits cast a bigger shadow than others, museums here do offer abundant, international choices. Today there’s growing attention to our exceptional Afro-Caribbean connections and diverse artists based in Miami. Commercial art galleries and venues like Little Haiti Cultural Complex and Locust Projects enrich this vibrant mix. 

In the second decade of the 21st century, we saw lots of changes. The Museum of Art and Design of Miami Dade College was established in 2012. It’s located in the iconic Freedom Tower on Biscayne Boulevard. The following year marked a huge milestone when the Miami Art Museum moved to a breathtaking location on Biscayne Bay and changed its name to become Pérez Art Museum Miami. Controversial at the time, the renaming now seems to attract little buzz as most have moved on, grappling with seismic challenges wrought by 2020.  

The Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum of Florida International University. (Courtesy of the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum FIU).

As in most cities, major change doesn’t happen without major growing pains. We saw that when a dispute erupted among battling board members of ICA Miami and Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami regarding the proper home of MOCA’s permanent collection.  In 2014, prominent former MOCA board members decamped to the new ICA Miami that was temporarily established in the Moore Building in the Miami Design District.  In 2017 ICA Miami opened the doors of its striking, three-story building and sculpture garden, adding to the district’s growing cachet as a cultural and entertainment destination. Meanwhile, the Bass Museum in Miami Beach has been substantially remodeled and expanded. The Frost Art Museum of Florida International University moved from a few galleries on the first floor of a campus building to an inviting three-story building of its own.

Miami’s enviable private collections have also contributed immeasurably to the expanding cultural landscape. Two years ago, the Rubell Family Collection left its converted Wynwood DEA warehouse for Allapattah to open in a new building, the re-branded Rubell Museum. It was joined that year by another private must-see museum established by collector Jorge M. Pérez in Allapattah, El Espacio 23, named for its location in a former warehouse on Northwest 23rdStreet. Despite the devastating hits that artists and arts groups took during the pandemic, arts philanthropy is resilient in Miami. Over the years, the Knight Foundation, Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation, Oolite Arts, and others have injected millions of dollars into the art community. In addition, Fountainhead, with its residency program and affordable studios, nurtures international and Miami-based artists. 

“Bring Her Flowers,” a month-long program imparted by visual artist Pati Monclus and poet Bianca Garcia to the high school-aged students of PACE Center for Girls – Miami, organized in partnership with O, Miami’s Poetry Festival by Bakehouse’s Curatorial + Public Programs Associate, Laura Novoa. (Photo: by Diana Espin, Courtesy: Bakehouse Art Complex).

As I look back, I’m also looking forward to more positive changes in our cultural profile. I’m particularly excited by how the Bakehouse Art Complex in Wynwood has been raising funds to build affordable housing and mixed-use spaces on its way too long under-utilized 2.3-acre urban campus. Marking its 30th anniversary in November, the Bakehouse is moving forward to play a far more active role in Miami’s maturing art community. And yet, as a highly seasoned veteran in the art scene here recently commented to me on Instagram, ‘the struggle continues.’