By Sylvia Gurinsky
(Disclosure: I am a part-time educator at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida.)
It wasn't so long ago - little more than a generation, really - that the Greater Miami area had to contend with being mislabelled as a cultural desert. Never mind that the Greater Miami Opera (today the Florida Grand Opera) had been around since 1941, the Historical Assocation of Southern Florida had been founded the year before that; that both the Miami Science Museum and the Lowe Art Museum began in 1950; that the great Marian Anderson had integrated the Dade County Auditorium in 1952, that tenor Luciano Pavarotti had made his American debut here in 1965 or that Dade County began its Art in Public Places program in 1973. Those successes couldn't knock down the old reputation.
Then came the 1980s, and Time magazine's "Paradise Lost" cover story. In the wake of that, and in the search for civic pride, the arts started to bloom. Christo's pink "Surrounded Islands" in Biscayne Bay drew worldwide attention. In succession came the establishment of the New World Symphony, the Miami City Ballet, the Florida Philharmonic (sadly gone now), the Miami Book Fair International and so many visual and performing arts groups, both large and small, reflecting the county's various ethnic groups and communities. This decade has seen the construction of the county's performing arts center and the welcoming of Art Basel.
The budget Mayor Carlos Alvarez proposed cuts $11 million from the county's Department of Cultural Affairs. That would mean the department could not provide grants to support cultural organizations.
Never mind, for the moment, Alvarez' illogic in proposing these cuts when he's giving raises to a number of his staffers (See yesterday's blog entry.).
The bigger issue is the threat those cuts, if enacted, pose to the arts community.
For every dollar Miami-Dade County invests in the performing and visual arts, private donors and other public entities provide $27. Now that's a bargain.
Admission fees for most of the arts facilities are bargains, as well. A lot of their business comes from the tourists who visit South Florida. It's gratifying to know that the tourists want some culture along with their sun and South Beach nightlife.
Other customers include the county's estimated 340,000 schoolchildren, who get a great deal more than just a few hours away from the classroom when they see a play or concert, visit a museum or go on a tour to a historic landmark such as the Cape Florida Lighthouse. In many cases, those visits are life changers. How many South Florida natives now work for those arts groups because of a ballet or painting they saw in those facilities as a kid?
Almost a month ago, there was a meeting of local arts groups to discuss what to do. This comes from Miami Herald reporter Jose Pagliery's story about the event; it's a quote from Sheila Austin, a former member of Dade's Cultural Affairs Council:
Speaking before a crowd, she echoed words taken from a recent conversation she had with her father, famed jazz artist Charlie Austin: ''Would you rather see a kid with an AK-47 or a kid with a paintbrush? Or trumpet?''
We all know the answer to that. Go and communicate that answer to the members of the Miami-Dade County Commission at two upcoming public hearings - this Thursday, Sept. 3 and Thursday, Sept. 17, both at 5 p.m. Remind them that the arts are the best buy in Miami-Dade County - with the best results for Dade's future.