Life’s More Than A Beach

Words by Josh Sims

Photography Getty Images

5 min read

Among the great cities of the US, Miami has long been way down the pecking order. But, led by the arts, the last decade has seen its transformation into party town

Miami — home of white beaches, nightclubs, cocktails and art. If all but the last entry rings true, times are changing for Florida’s main city.

Indeed, move over New York and Los Angeles, Miami might well be undergoing reinvention as the new art hub of the US. And in a big way: since Art Basel, the influential Swiss exhibition, decided to open a satellite show in Miami in 2002, the number of spin-off art fairs has grown from one to 20; the number of independent galleries in the city has rocketed from six to a staggering 130 and counting. Miami is the city where one canny enthusiast recently bought an entire building in the city for Dhs26 million, just for the graffiti it had on it. He removed that, had it installed in his home and then sold the building — for Dhs44 million. Indeed, Miami has long been considered the gateway to the US from Latin America, and vice versa, as the blend of cultures there suggests. But this melting pot — it’s become a second, summery home to wealthy expat Germans, Russians and — since one airline wisely opened a direct route from Beijing — Chinese, drawn to the city’s confluence of construction, cash and cool, has guaranteed a customer

base for this art too. Miami has become the go-to city for savvy philanthropists. Miami now holds the number seven spot among the US cities attracting the most philanthropic investment. New York? It’s not even in the top 10.

Baby Hulk mural by Ron English at Wynwood Walls

Dropped Bowl with Scattered Slices and Peels by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen

But Miami’s new status goes beyond things to hang on your wall. “It’s just insane here,” as a man who goes only by the name of Elo puts it — he’s the founder of Miami Supercar Rooms, a kind of drive-in restaurant for owners of Ferraris and Lamborghinis. “It’s exploding. Pound-for-pound it’s the hottest investment city in the US. It’s the New World global capital, from architecture to design to the culinary scene.” The city has historically been a heartland for international Art Deco, but recent years have also seen any number of high-profile architectural projects, each encouraging the next: Norman Foster’s Faena House, OMA’s Coconut Grove, buildings from the likes of Bjarke Ingels, Richard Meier, Sou Fujimoto and Studio Gang, even Jacques Herzog’s 1111 Lincoln Road parking garage. It’s working for interiors too: there’s the former Saxony Hotel, re-imagined thanks to interior design by film director Baz Luhrmann; or Ironside, with interiors by Ron Arad; American architects Aranda\Lasch are working on a building that already has permanent installations by a veritable who’s who of globally- lauded designers — Marc Newson, Konstantin Grcic and the late Zaha Hadid. There are the new buzz hotels too, like the Nobu and the Faena.

Indeed, Miami’s standing is reflected in the rapid expansion of its cultural offer too, with nationally important institutions, the likes of the Pérez Art Museum, New World Center, Palm Court, Museum Garage and the new Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science. The Carnival Center — now named the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts — was, when it opened in 2006, the result of the biggest ever private/ public partnership in US history, totalling Dhs1.7 billion. Over the last decade, it’s generated more than Dhs7 billion in economic impact. Little wonder that, a few years ago, when Barbara Streisand was asked why she wanted to give one of her increasingly rare performances in, of all places, this Floridian beach town, she said much to the effect of it being where the arts were at now. It is, the suggestion was, now much more than the old summertime party playground of the likes of Al Capone, Franklin D. Roosevelt or Jacqueline Kennedy.

“Miami was really ripe for the picking,” suggests Suzie Sponder of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I was born and raised here and there was always a kind of void for construction. So, crucially, there was room for it. At some 120 years old, Miami is a relatively young city. And what’s interesting is that a number of key developers have proven as visionary as the art community.” Among these might be counted the likes of Tony Goldman, Ofer Mizrahi, Jorge Pérez or Craig Robins — the man who has shaped the Miami Design District of highbrow retail and restaurants, and who had been revitalising and so preserving Art Deco buildings on South Beach since the 1980s. He also happens to be the founder of the city’s Design Miami collectors’ fair.

Inside the atrium of the Moore Building

Wynwood Walls’ graffiti mural by How & Nosm

These men might well be congratulated for imposing restrictions on their architects, insisting that any new build is in keeping with the city’s historic tone. But when the financial crisis hit, they were just as quick to repurpose their developments as residential. And that, perhaps, has had the biggest impact of all: by drawing new, often creative blood to the city, even from New York. Miami was, back in the 1970s, dubbed as a “Paradise Lost” by Time magazine — a nod to the political unrest, violence and sky-high crime levels that would help inspire the likes of the Miami Vice television series. But that was then. “In fact, Miami’s become a little New York for a lot of people, especially younger generations, for artists and developers alike,” Suzie says. “Miami has always brought in visitors from the northeast, but more have become residents. And they’ve not only invested in Miami’s new businesses and culture, but they’ve also come with that big city thinking that can quickly transform a place. And that’s certainly what’s happening.”

Certainly, Elo just can’t get enough of the place. It’s why he moved here, almost solely on a gut feeling for the city. Akin to the literal visual signal of a building boom that is so associated with a place like Dubai, Elo’s father once told him to go wherever he saw cranes, lots and lots of cranes because that was a city on the move. “And when I first went to Miami in 2014, I was just amazed by the number of condos rising up,” he says. “So we just packed up and moved there. And, you know, it’s one sexy location.”

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