Anyone forced to live on the street most likely won’t think of empty sidewalks and walls as anything but a place to escape. But this weekend the streets of Wynwood will become a friendly resource, transformed by artists into a creative carnival to benefit the Lotus House Women’s Shelter for homeless women and children.
And in a twist on the [hoary/shopworn/potentially clichéd] art-as-life concept, many of the offerings at this weekend’s Wynwood Art Fair will be created or performed in part by the people attending – at least those ready to hop, shop, knit, parade, write, or draw. Whether it’s joining Natasha Duwin’s giant outdoor sewing circle, parading along with Miami collective Friends With You’s enormous, playful inflatable figures, or writing art-inspired poems that the Miami Poetry Collective will put together into a giant collage composition, everyone who comes to the Wynwood Fair is invited to participate in art.
“The street is the stage – it’s the gallery without walls,” says Constance Collins Margulies, founder and president of Lotus House, which houses homeless women and children while helping them get back to a more stable life. “Our goal in the creation of the fair was not to dictate to the artists, but give them a blank street canvas and let them play with it, and engage the audience in every form of artistic medium.”
The fair is Lotus House’ seventh art-based fundraiser. Two years ago, Margulies began moving away from the traditional gala dinner and auction model to more communal and participatory events. Last year’s “Heart Happening” drew over 1,000 people, raising $400,000 and overflowing the Margulies Warehouse, which houses the vast art collection owned by Constance’ husband, businessman and art collector Marvin Margulies.
That success inspired Constance Margulies and her collaborators to take the event to the streets this year, hoping to raise not only more money, but greater awareness of homelessness and the power of community. The economic downturn has made fundraising for the shelter’s $1.3 million budget more difficult than ever, making the fair crucial to Lotus House’ programs. “We thought what could be a more appropriate venue than the streets, since so many of the women in the shelter come from the streets,” Margulies says. “It is also an opportunity to uplift those in need, through the artistic exploration of interconnectedness.”
The combination of a good cause with the chance to present creative new performances and projects – as well as the promotional opportunity of a big street audience, has attracted many of Miami’s top museums, galleries and art schools. They include the Adrienne Arsht Center, the Miami Art Museum, Bass Museum of Art, the de la Cruz Collection of Contemporary Art, Locust Projects gallery, Florida International University, Miami-Dade College, and many more.
Entrance to the fair, which takes place on Northwest Sixth Avenue between 23rd and 29th streets, is $10, with children under ten free. There will be food vendors, but no alcohol for sale. The event is supported by the City of Miami, which helped persuade the Florida Department of Transportation to temporarily re-open the SR 112/I-195 North Miami Avenue exit ramp, currently under construction, to make it easier for people to get to the Wynwood Fair.
“It’s gonna be a really interesting way to introduce a wider public to all the art institutions at the beginning of the season,” said Bonnie Clearwater, executive director CKTK of the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. Her museum is producing a ‘flash mob’ created by famed visual and performance Rita Ackermann, where 100 volunteers will be videotaped walking backwards through the fair, with the resulting footage to be incorporated into a piece for an Ackerman exhibit at MOCA in March.
Beyond exposing often challenging contemporary art to new audiences, Clearwater says the fair “makes a real strong statement about art and culture in Miami. It shows how the cultural community is deeply involved with supporting the community itself – in this case Lotus House.”
Miami poet and performance artist Antonia Wright, who helped curate projects for the Fair, says they looked for proposals that used creative ways to incorporate the audience, the street, and ideas about shelter, homelessness and community. Among them are the enigmatically named sculptor/performance artist Sleeper’s paper mache “speed bumps” meant to emulate the obstacles of living on the street, and Augustina Woodgate’s mazelike hopscotch course.
The group Fantastic Nobodies will ask for help in creating what they hope will be the world’s largest sidewalk chalk drawing. Ruben Millares was inspired by Lotus House’ name to create a gigantic wood lotus flower, with fairgoers invited to draw and write on the petals, while Ben Fain and Frank Vendrom’s pop-up store will be filled with smiley face decorated objects, on sale for $1, with proceeds going to the shelter.
Wright attributes the enthusiastic response in part to strong art world interest in performance art. But she says artists and
institutions were also attracted to the humanitarian and communal spirit of the event.
“This work demystifies the art-making process,” Wright says. “Instead of just seeing a piece on the wall and feeling really separate from it, you can be a part of making it.
“It’s humbling for everyone involved because it’s for the shelter. The art world can be elite or competitive. This isn’t competitive at all.”
In addition to raising money and awareness, Margulies hopes that artists and audiences will join in having a good time. “There was a certain point [at last year’s fundraiser] where… I just let go,” she says.
“That’s what I hope happens with this – that people just let go. It’s not intended to be a perfect experience like at a normal art fair, with everything perfectly orchestrated. It’s intended to be fun and playful.”