Thursday, July 19, 2007

Underwhelmed by the Carnivorous Center for the Performing Arts, by gimleteye

On Miami's $500 million performing arts center, what drives me into the blogsphere is the notion that massive performance spaces cultivate culture--an outdated idea that wraps around the PAC like a project from the artist, Christo.

In other words, the “build it, and they will come” mentality behind sports stadiums applied to the arts. It's baloney.

Our blog gets lots of comments from PAC defenders that break into a few small parts. The first draws a parallel to Lincoln Center/ New York City.

It is a ridiculous comparison.

Today’s Miami Herald reports that executives from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. spent a day or two lending their expert advice: “Better-quality programs and long-term planning would help the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts build a more secure financial future and play a more vibrant role in South Florida's cultural life, according to a team of executives from Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.”

Long-term planning? Isn’t that what elected officials should have demanded, before committing $500 million to the empty, elegant carcass successful, so far as I can tell, only in anchoring real estate values in the surrounding neighborhood, in particular the Miami Herald?

In point of fact, there are very excellent planning tools available if any of the grand boo-bahs with influence at County Hall had bothered to use them.

One, in particular, deserves mention by the Miami-Dade Department of Planning and Zoning. It is called, “An Overview of the Socio-Economic Condition of Miami-Dade County.”

Although the report was printed in May, 2007—the analysis of census statistics would have been available to anyone who looked and answers the second PAC defender point: that the PAC in Miami will succeed like the one in Broward or Palm Beach.

Relative to the discussion of the advisability of investing $500 million in a white elephant of a cultural center in Miami is a simple chart: average income of Miami-Dade, and, of Florida as a percentage of U.S. Per Capita Income (page 16).

In 1959, Miami-Dade average income was 109% of average U.S. income. Florida average income was only 93% of the US average for that year.

By 1999, Miami-Dade’s average income had dropped to 86%, while Florida’s had risen to 100% of U.S. income for that year.

By 2005, the average income in Miami-Dade as a percentage of per capita income in the U.S. had dropped to 84% while Florida’s slipped two points below parity.

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that Miami-Dade County is a very poor community, marked by pockets of exorbitant wealth.

Who, then, is going to fill up the PAC night-after-night? Parker Thompson and all the citizens of Pinecrest? Or Gables Estates? The downtown condominiums that are 70 or 80 percent owned by speculators, if they are not owned by the bank?

The third PAC defender point is that it is necessary to have museums and peforming arts centers in order to build the economic base and higher quality jobs in Miami.

The reasoning goes that creative and entrepreneurial people are not attracted to places that lack cultural amenities. OK.

If that is the case, then some simple polling should have been done in the demographic in question.

And the poll questions I would have asked go something like this: would you rather be able to commute to work in half an hour or less, or, have a cultural arts center that takes an hour to get to?

The point of this direction in polling is simple and, again, not rocket science: until Miami solves its transportation infrastructure issues, the city and county cannot afford any other “solutions” to base economic problems.

Miami is a hard-scrabble place for most of its citizens who are ethnically diverse and even vibrant culturally and artistically within their communities. Its economic base is different from Ft. Lauderdale, and certainly, from Palm Beach.

So my answer to the PAC defenders is this: you bet on the wrong horse.

To cultivate audiences for the arts takes several generations and begins, not with a $500 million building no one can get to, but in the public schools.

How much money is spent by Miami-Dade public schools on arts education? On developing artists and performers?

Miami’s arts magnet schools, New World and D.A.S.H. are tremendous community assets, but these are two schools in a county of more than a million residents.

The only performance art that responds to a big box performance space in a city that can’t afford it, is either low-grade, low-cost entertainments, or, whatever the ultra-wealthy contribute from their own largesse.

Shower the kids in the schools with money for the arts today and in 15 years there might be an audience. Why wasn't this clear to the grand poo-bahs of Miami? There are a hundred pedestrian reasons.

So come on down to Miami, Kennedy Center. Have it. We’re a great place to visit in January. Besides, we need your bed taxes to pay for the Carnivorous Center for the Performing Arts.


Geniusofdespair said...

Actually Gimleteye...better programming would help a lot. I bought tickets to three shows that I really am not looking forward to. A night out is my excuse, better than a movie.

When they had that $10 show for all seats, it was sold out. So, maybe you are right about income....

Anonymous said...

I am afraid that this will never go over in South Florida. No more than sports will. People are here to enjoy sun and sea and similar places. We will never get enough people to allow any of these places to make a profit. Probably not even to break even. Of course a good show would do well here, but that is a horse of a different color. I probably should not sign my name to this because there are always a few people who love whatever.

Anonymous said...

Train wreck coming?
My principal passed on to me 2 freebee nosebleed seat tickets to Anna Karenina’s dress rehearsal for a Wednesday night. In trooped 2 rows of elementary students in their out-on-the-town finery (quite fine, they weren’t teenagers trying to show too much flesh). They were there with their principal as part of an “opera club.” They attended the whole season and I’m sure for them the price was right. They behaved themselves better than many adults I have seen, sitting rapt throughout the performance (3 hours of an opera that wasn’t very musical.) I asked latter if they got the ending, Anna’s demise only being hinted at, and they all nodded yes. Only problem: long lines of little people waiting for very expensive cookies and cokes.
They will go on to be a good audience. If they can ever afford the $150 seats is something else.

Anonymous said...

I used to have season tickets to Miami Beaches Musical seasons. Then I had kids. And the tickets were dropped.

Then I had UM tickets, which over the years went up to S350 a seat, then they added a S1500 'donation' to the school on top of the 5 season tickets, after 23 years I gave up those tickets last year.

I thought I would buy season tickets to musical performances downtown. I can't bring myself to do it... I hate the idea of driving and parking and walking the streets.

So, instead I go the UM to the Sunday Afternoons of Music Series. It is closer and more pleasant.

Anonymous said...

I visited the PAC Center buildings on Sunday. They appeared to be nothing going on. Both buildings look pretty uninteresting, especially from the east side. Sad.

Anonymous said...

I went to the carnival center in November with my husband and it was a complete nightmare to find parking. Then after the show it was very dark and I just don't feel safe walking around that area at night. I WILL support our performing arts center but does it have to be located in a SLUM?