Art in Public Places

By Shayne Benowitz | Jun 21, 2017
Air Chair by Paul Villinki at Miami International Airport
Air Chair by Paul Villinki at Miami International Airport

Miami’s Art in Public Places is one of the most dynamic in the country with over 700 works in public parks and buildings.

Miami’s reputation as a world-class arts destination is shining brighter than ever. Since 2002, Miami Beach has hosted Art Basel staging the biggest contemporary art fair in the Americas every December. The Wynwood Arts District has cemented itself as a premiere destination for both street art and cutting edge contemporary galleries, while Little Haiti is emerging as the next big arts neighborhood. The Pérez Art Museum Miami opened in 2013 on the shores of Biscayne Bay inside a landmark building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron providing Miami with an unprecedented platform to showcase contemporary art of the Americas through both its permanent collection and temporary exhibitions.

Before all of these recent developments, Miami-Dade’s Art in Public Places program has buoyed the city with art since 1973. Born from an ordinance that requires allocating 1.5 percent of the construction cost of new county buildings for the purchase or commission of art, the collection now spans more than 700 works. Established by the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, it’s one of the most impressive and professionally run programs in the country.

Public art is found everywhere across the county from Homestead to Aventura in venues that include the 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.

The works are selected by a Professional Advisory Committee that makes recommendations on acquisitions and commissions to the program’s Trust. Additionally, individual municipalities have their own Art in Public Places programs, including Miami Beach, which was established in 1984 and has sited nearly 20 artworks across the beach, ranging from groundbreaking pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s “Mermaid” on the lawn of the Fillmore at The Jackie Gleason Theater to “Urban Deco” manhole covers by local artist-designer Garren Owens.

In the early days of the countywide program, much of the art consisted of two-dimensional acquisitions, while the focus for the last decade has shifted to site specific, collaborative projects. The artists represented also range from canonical to emerging, as well as local, regional and international. Some of the collection’s blue chip works include Isamu Noguchi’s marble “Slide Mantra” sculpture in Bayfront Park, Keith Haring’s drawings in the Stephen P. Clark Government Center and Ed Ruscha’s word murals inside the Main Library.

Recent cutting edge commissions include Miami artist Nicolas Lobo’s “The Brutal Workout” sited on the forthcoming Underline linear park. The 10’ x 10’ stainless steel structure resembles monkey bars for exercise. Jim Drain, another Miami-based artist has added a splash of color inspired by maritime flags to PortMiami with his “Bollard Project,” which runs along the sidewalk.

Another fascinating commission is Ivan Toth Depeña’s “Arc” at the Northeast Dade-Aventura Public Library. The stainless steel sculpture was created using wind data from Hurricane Wilma in 2005, which destroyed the original library. At night, using wind monitors on the roof of the library, the sculpture’s lighting changes depending on the power of the wind.

The $615 million dollar renovation of the Miami Beach Convention Center presents an incredible opportunity for new commissions and more than 500 artists responded to the call for proposals. Ultimately, seven artists from Berlin to Brooklyn have been recommended for original site specific commissions including a sculpture that resembles an arched swimming pool in the outdoor green space, a neon text installation in the main lobby, and interior and exterior murals on the walls. Another upcoming call to artists will commission sound installations at the New World Center’s Soundscape Park.

With so much art spanning the county’s public places, visiting Miami can feel like a joyous scavenger hunt. Don’t forget to take it all in and dig a little deeper as you’re out and about exploring the city. You may not even realize you’re in the midst of a great work of art.

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