DWNTWN Art Days returns this weekend with more events, installations

Sophomore efforts are a challenge – for novelists, musicians, and even arts programmers.

The success of DWNTWN Art Days last year generated both momentum and expectations. This weekend the culturally curious – of all persuasions – will find Miami’s downtown a vital place, day and night.

The model for this second act could be “more is better”. There will be exhibitions, open studios, theater, opera, a wine tasting-movie screening, four centuries of Latin-American music, the Hongs’ dance party – and more. Giants in the City returns with a mime. HeArt of the City presents 12 artists among nine retailers. 

“I think it’s a great addition for an urban area – especially Miami – because it grows so fast and is so vibrant and energizing,” said Margaret McInroe in describing her sculptural wheatgrass hanging garden, Growing the Future of our City, commissioned for The Fringe at DRB bar. But she could be describing downtown’s cultural scene.

Organizers have created a comprehensive guide, online and in print, to help visitors manage the expanded offerings.

Here’s a breakdown:

• Events: More than 130 activities populate large institutions as well as medium spaces.

• The Hub: Visitors get oriented at this staffed info depot in Miami Worldcenter’s Grand Central Park, (700 N. Miami Ave., 9:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.)  It’s the transportation locus for Art Days’ trolley, Metromover, Car2Go and bicycles.

• The Fringe Project: Seven temporary commissioned projects, curated by Amanda Sanfilippo, provoke fresh engagements with their often unexpected settings. This is part of an “international movement toward nomadic, city or site-based events that are less object than experience oriented,” she explains.

• Walking and bike tours explore Mary Brickell Village, Miami Circle and the Olympia Theater: Tom Wheeler Castillo delivers insider access to The DWNTWN Art House’s studios, galleries and lounges, to historic buildings and the new Mitchell Wolfson Jr. Study Center.

In 2010 the Miami Downtown Development Authority (Miami DDA), directed by Alyce Robertson, formed the Arts and Culture Group to serve its 2005 masterplan goal “to enhance our position as the Business and Cultural Epicenter of the Americas.

“We know that growing arts and culture can generate significant economic benefits and is a key driver of attachment to place for residents,” she says. People seeking a downtown residence expect abundant cultural amenities, she added. “The group felt that there was so much cultural activity in the urban core, but no coordinated effort to highlight all that was taking place.”

They engaged independent curator Claire Breukel to recruit commitment among geographically dispersed players for a weekend event that would include afterhours activities in this two-square-mile, mostly 9-to-5 business district. Breukel’s challenge: generate buy-in among stakeholders, as she has done in projects internationally. Last year’s success: 50 diverse events, including 2,000 people attending McCormick Place’s art-meets-burlesque kickoff. 

Breukel was joined this year by Fringe curator Sanfilippo, who is development associate at Miami’s experimental nonprofit art space Locust Projects. Sanfilippo praises the DDA for its non-judgmental stance. Through her call for proposals, she sought “a mix of spectacle with contemplative works, engaged with their site and generating discourse.” Viewers should closely examine Pontus Willfors’ “Bucky Ball” structures, at The Hub, for their play on faux materials and symbols of American prosperity. Then, sit on Tom Scicluna’s “Freedom” bench to contemplate the dizzying evidence of change.

Why is DWNTWN Art Days so vital to the arts community? Breukel and Sanfilippo assert that Miami already has commercially oriented arts districts and fairs (Art Basel et al). “This is all part of the maturity of Miami as an arts destination that’s based on its stature as a place for ideas, not just objects,“ Sanfilippo explains. And soon downtown can tout a Museum Park.