A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

YIKES! Art in Public Places

Sometimes, it just works out that you don’t have to look too far past an article or an interview in a locally published art and political rag to become inspired to comment. And sometimes that comment takes on a life of its own. We are talking about traveling beyond the usual thread, to where the crux of an original article, in its own right, emerges and merges with the content of commenting to reemerge as new context, shedding light into shadowy corners that certain shady entities would prefer to remain dim.

Following his recent article published here, The Wood Eternal: Environment, Architecture, and the Pérez Art Museum Miami, this brief thought piece courtesy of Richard Haden continues to interrogate, the usual suspects — names like Ross, Pérez, Robins, to name just a few — who persist in wrecking havoc on our surrounding environment by inhabiting and exploiting that grey area between state and privately funded real-estate development. Such redevelopments usually hide behind the facade of urban renewal instead of being what they really are — gentrification. Knowing the difference between gentrification and urban-renewal is how we all can learn more about recapturing the real meaning of living sustainably — as a project inspired by voluntary societal shrinking of production and consumption with a view to achieving ecological and social sustainability.

Continuing a conversation brought on by above sea level development to below sea level, then back up to a critique anchored by “Art In Public Places,” this article was primarily inspired by PUBLIC ART IN MIAMI: PORT-MIAMI AND BEYOND–Bhakti Baxter, Jim Drain, Brandi Reddick and Michael Spring, an article published recently by the Miami Rail, and spurred Haden’s comment, published below.

If you haven’t read the article at the Miami Rail it would be a good idea to do so now… if you don’t want to, perhaps this will make sense anyway.

[Richard Haden • 5 days ago]

“It would really be nice if artists, in times of economic desperation, would choose better places to place their work, or find other means of generating income, instead of agreeing to be paid to inadvertently promote major environmental disasters like the new Miami port authority expansion–as promoted here by Art in Public places. Apparently most artists today just don’t have a real environmental awareness….

As Highlighted in this article, Bhakti and Jim Drain become part of problem, becoming complicit with the promotion of a huge expansion of colossal environmental polluting machines–Cruise Ships.

For example, to cover a ticket booth with pictures of marine wildlife that gets destroyed by huge Marina expansions, is just plain ignorant complicity. In other words, The wrapping of a ticket booth, is a reminder of what you won’t see in the Marina water or next to a huge Marina, once the Marine industry expands–and I don’t think there is intended irony here. (take all the coral reefs that have been destroyed over the years due to environmental degradation, caused by industrial activity, like is currently taking place in the Biscayne bay).

And to top it off, to decorate marina seawalls with colorful bulwarks that jest at protecting life–tourist getting on or off Cruise ships, means what? To me it means the same as Bhakti’s thoughtless gesture–its not about protection at all, it almost becomes a hilarious distraction designed to keep people out of the water, from looking into the water–away from witnessing the destruction of Florida’s marine world. Bullwarks don’t protect the environment, they protect people from seeing….

Then there is that Michelle Oka Doner’s floor work, “A Walk on the Beach.” Yes, I agree that It can really only exist in Miami. For like so much in south Florida, it’s kitsch value makes little sense anywhere else. But what the hey, at least that work is in an airport where people are usually in too much a hurry to imagine its environmental story…

Don’t get me wrong for I think Art in Public places is a wonderful opportunity for artist and communities to come together, too bad “Art In Public Places” has been co-opted by gentrification NOT urban renewal.”

So what is Art in Public Places?

“Miami-Dade County Art in Public Places, a program of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, serves the community through the implementation of art installations dedicated to enriching the public environment and to preserving and enhancing the artistic and civic pride of Miami-Dade County. Miami-Dade Art in Public Places promotes collaboration and creative art projects that improve the visual quality of public spaces. These public art installations transform public spaces from ordinary civic areas to sites that can lift the spirit and connect with the community.

One of the first public art programs in the country, Miami-Dade Art in Public Places was established in 1973 with the passage of an ordinance allocating 1.5% of construction cost of new county buildings for the purchase or commission of artworks. Art in Public Places is overseen by a citizens’ Trust appointed by the Board of County Commissioners. The Trust receives recommendations on acquisitions and commissions from the Professional Advisory Committee, an independent group of professionals in the field of art, art history, public art, architecture, landscape architecture and architectural history.

Over the past thirty-nine years, the Miami-Dade Art in Public Places Trust has acquired or commissioned over 650 works of art and gained international recognition as a leader in its field. Artworks are installed countywide at diverse sites including Miami International Airport, Metrorail and Metromover stations, PortMiami, Zoo Miami, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, parks, fire stations, libraries, police stations, public housing developments, courthouses and community health centers.

For more than a decade, the focus of the program has been on site-specific, collaborative projects that involve the thinking of artists, landscape architects, historians, engineers, and architects in a team approach. Creative problem solving through innovative collaborations has resulted in projects that validate, define, and expand community identity.

The goals of the program are several: to enhance the artistic heritage of Miami-Dade County, to give dimension to the public environment for residents and visitors, to increase public awareness to works of art, and to promote understanding and awareness of the visual arts. The Art in Public Places program has given Miami-Dade County national visibility in the arts and a leadership role in public programming. Through Art in Public Places, the County supports the development of a unique and vital civic environment.” —

Bhakti Baxter's Coral Morphologic Booths courtesy of Miami Art in Public Places website.

Bhakti Baxter’s Coral Morphologic Booths courtesy of Miami Art in Public Places website.

Basically, “Art in Public Places” is a great institution for artist and community alike, especially when that “public” is the community. The issue Haden takes with much Art “placed” in public places, these days, is that it serves real-estate development, whose aims are not to supply much needed affordable housing, but instead serve as a safe way for the rentier class (not the renter class) to store cash as capital investments. In short the Miami Rail article celebrates “Art In Public Places” and Haden does not, because he feels that Art In Public Places, has been appropriated by the conspicuous nature of gentrifiers.

So here we are back in the present with an addendum from Haden to his original comment on that Miami Rail article…

“In conclusion, I would weigh my own participation in any commissioned art project, placed in public on who it serves–and whether or not it is private or state funded makes no difference–for who the work serves is what it is all about. Because for me, I am not comfortable with art selling someone else’s luxury, yet I would have no problem with letting my work afford the original intent of Art In Public Places–which is to serve the well being and quality of life that can exist in a diversified community, that is self-aware of environmental issues that affect the quality of life in all urban environments, especially in south Florida, when the environment is especially sensitive, to human activity.

Placing art works on Cruise Ships or using the creative talents of naive artists to decorate the acceleration of environmental disasters, as is the case with the Miami Marina expansion and high rise condo developments can not be ethically justified anymore. Sure there are other “Public Art Projects” that are not necessarily married to developments that contribute directly to environmental corruption as does the Miami Marina project, or the countless luxury condos, however, such ostensibly innocuous projects, like those of Bal Harbor where, for example, “Self Portrait of the Barefoot Mailman” meets the upside, top-down world of wealthy gentry are still serving a toxic end. In this case fueling the out of control production and consumption machine of luxury shopping, just another form of gentrification that ruins communities and contributes to natural resource scarcity.

Once informed of and wise to the insidious tactics of both developers and government budget allocations we are faced with a simple choice: Speak out against what we find to be wrong, or condone the degradation of our shared humanity with our inaction and like the proverbial ostrich, bury our heads collectively in the sand. Lord knows we’ve got plenty of it[.]“

Image courtesy

Image courtesy

This post was contributed by Richard Haden.






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  • Jackie Kilowatt

    This is brilliant.

    I never quite knew in my own head exactly what had bothered me about one or two of the AIPP installations and their stated purposes. (And probably way more than that, I just only have personal knowledge of a couple that I happened to see at Bayside Marina and across the causeway). This perfectly explains the problem, or rather what has become the problem: Public art projects can still be “toxic” if they are placed in a way that benefits certain projects/uber-wealthy entities (especially in Miami Beach, let alone Bal Harbour) that are actively causing harm. But come on… what are the chances that art projects would ever end up strategically placed to benefit… couldn’t happen. Not in Miami.

    While I would like to say that much of the art on its own is great, the feeling of gentrification that precedes a lot of the art I see – again, even when it’s great – in Miami is disappointing. I hate to have to say that my interest in hearing about any new artistic endeavors in these type of areas has waned, which I’m sure causes me to miss a lot of neat things. While I had some idea about it, I couldn’t have expressed it with clarity to any yeasayers until now.

    Mr. Haden’s comments nailed what’s happening now (and a year and a half ago – whatever – I just noticed the date on this post).

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YIKES! Art in Public Places