No, he didn’t run the table. Yes, Rocco Landesman, President Obama’s choice to lead the National Endowment for the Arts, is a betting man with a special fondness for the ponies, but he’s not playing pool on the government’s dime.
The cowboy-boot shod Landesman took a moment to try out the hands-on art at Miami Beach’s Bass Museum of Art (“Oval Billiard Table with Pendulum” by Gabriel Orozco – and good luck hitting that ball) during a head-spinning, daylong tour of urban arts sites in Miami and Miami Beach.
On a week when everyone in town seemed besotted with Super Bowl hoopla, there was a substantive theme to the day. Sum it up as “Art Works,’’ the outspoken Landesman’s triple-entendre brand for his attempt to revitalize the NEA, neutered in the 1990s culture wars.
In short: The arts put people to work, generating real economic activity. (Landesman should know. He produced “The Producers’’ and “Angels in America’’ on Broadway’’ and his company owns several Broadway theaters). Art, artists and artistic institutions work as a fulcrum for urban revitalization. (Surely more than, say, a football game, though Landesman has a soft spot for baseball, having owned three minor-league teams.)
And thus the NEA should help fund such efforts directly.
So the NEA, through its Mayors’ Institute on City Design, which steeps elected municipal leaders in the finer points of urban design, will dole out money to projects meant to enhance urban quality of life -- 15 grants ranging from $25,000 to $250,000. Cities whose mayors attended the institute at any point in the past 25 years are eligible, and in South Florida that includes Miami, Miami Beach, North Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Hallandale, Hollywood and Lauderhill. Application deadline is March 15.
Monday’s visit was as much demonstration of the Art Works principle at work as a learning tour for Landesman, who has a place on South Beach and is no stranger to its artistic attractions – not to mention Calder and Gulfstream, which he name-dropped (but has anyone told him Hialeah reopened?).
For this blog, it was See Miami Like a Tourist day. And, setting aside both hype and cynicism, strong evidence that our cultural institutions -- with lots of taxpayer help -- are bit-by-bit transforming the city before our too-often unbelieving eyes.
From DASH, the design magnet high school, the whirlwind tour dashed through Wynwood and the Design District, made a stop at the year-old Little Haiti Cultural Center, a terrific and attractive but still-underused city facility (look for a story on this soon), and gave the Arsht Center a drive-by.
The (alas, very soggy) afternoon was all Beach: A tour of the under-construction, Frank Gehry-designed New World Symphony concert and rehearsal hall (can I say wow?), the Bass and Miami City Ballet – all centerpieces of ambitious urban revitalization plans by the city. And, finally, the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum, a favorite of this blog (see earlier post below).
For at least one visitor, Deputy NEA chair Joan Shigekawa, the artistic riches of Miami, the variety and innovation on display – see NWS’s interactive, wired hall – and the depth of public investment was a revelation.
“It’s a surprise to me,’’ she said while waiting for a standing-room-only roundtable to begin at the Wolfsonian. “It’s places like Miami where the new thinking comes from. The thing is, it’s really of this century. Very impressive.’’
Is this a view from the outside that Miamians can now finally embrace?
(NWS president Howard Herring shows off Gehry’s handiwork. To this blog, Herring made a Gehry joke: “Oh, no, someone messed up the steel!’’ Urbanista! did laugh.)