The Pérez Art Museum Miami. Shutterstock/ Francisco Blanco

The Pérez Art Museum Miami. Shutterstock/Francisco Blanco

Last year, in a New York Times piece surveying the surging Miami arts scene, Brett Sokol asked, “Is Miami a case of too much, too soon: too many arts organizations, too few private funders to keep them all afloat?”

The city’s foremost private funder, Jorge M. Pérez, is certainly doing his part. Eights months after Pérez announced two prizes focused on supporting Miami-based working artists, Artnet reported that the Argentine-born “Miami Condo King” will open a private museum showcasing his vast contemporary art collection.

The space, El Espacio 23, will be housed in a 28,000-square-foot former warehouse and is due to open in December during Art Basel. The center’s first show, “Time for Change: Art and Social Unrest in the Jorge M. Pérez Collection,” aligns with donors’ seemingly unanimous belief that the arts can drive social change.

As if anticipating concerns that his new museum will compete with the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), Pérez said, “I remain wholeheartedly committed to supporting the Pérez Art Museum Miami and see Espacio 23 as an extension of that mission. The [Pérez] museum’s curatorial team has done an incredible job at positioning the museum and our city as an international cultural destination, and this new space will allow us to build upon that work through experimental exhibitions and programming focused around the specific interests of the collection.”

Jorge Pérez: A Quick Refresher

Pérez is the chairman and CEO of the Related Group, which has developed more than 80,000 condos, mostly in Miami, since it was founded in 1979. The Related Group has also built projects in Argentina, Brazil, Panama, Uruguay, and Mexico.

In December 2011, Pérez donated $35 million to the Miami Art Museum to support the construction of the institution’s building. The gift included $15 million for the institution’s capital campaign, on top of his original $5 million pledge at the campaign’s outset. As a result, the museum was renamed PAMM. In July of 2016, Pérez announced he would be stepping away from real estate to turn his attention toward collecting and philanthropy.

Four months later, Pérez gave $10 million in cash and a collection of more than 200 works by Cuban artists valued at some $5 million to the PAMM. Pérez’s intent was clear: Miami should have a great Latin American art collection. “It was important to me for a Hispanic person to assume a lead role in philanthropy and have their name associated with a great museum like the Tate or the Guggenheim,” he said.

Those who worry that Pérez’s new museum may divert his attention away from other endeavors will be heartened to know that he called his $10 million gift to the PAMM “peanuts” compared to what he’d be giving the museum in the future. We should take him at his word: Forbes recently pegged his net worth at $1.9 billion.

Supporting Artists and Curators

The Times’ Sokol drew from a study by research firm TDC which found that while arts organizations remain indebted to the tireless work of the Knight Foundation, Miami still has a top-heavy arts funding ecosystem where arts activities rely on a small number of funders. In addition, TDC found that the percentage of organizations with less than 2.5 months of unrestricted net assets increased from 42 percent in 2005 to 50 percent in 2015. Several organizations also suggested that rising property values have put artists and arts organizations at risk of displacement.

Sokol previously alluded to a common complaint that city’s local art activity “is anemic outside of the annual Art Basel fair,” while Artnet’s Sarah Cascone, on the heels of Pérez’s recent announcement, noted that Miami is “famous for being full of collectors who continually splinter their efforts into tiny private museums.”

Given these concerns, does Miami really need yet another private museum? Pérez believes that it does, and a closer look at El Spacio 23’s charter explains why. One of the space’s main goals will be to close a glaring hole across Miami’s rapidly growing arts ecosystem: a relative lack of support for working artists and curators. El Spacio 23 will have three apartments and shared work space for residencies, which will last six to eight weeks and be offered to artists and curators in various disciplines and stages of their careers. The new center will also support local artists working in public in the surrounding neighborhood of Allapattah.

“This new center was born from the belief that at the core of any of the world’s great cities, is a thriving community of artists and creatives,” Pérez said. “This is a project 40 years in the making, and I look forward to inspiring and challenging visitors to think beyond the scope of their personal world views, while also cultivating the artists and curators of tomorrow.”

This idea of supporting local artists is a topic that’s been near and dear to Pérez’s heart as of late. In February, he announced the Jorge M. Pérez Award, which provides $25,000 to a visual arts alumnus of Miami’s National YoungArts Foundation, and the $50,000 Jorge and Darlene Pérez Prize. A few months later, he announced the Pérez CreARTE grants program, which will distribute $1 million to artists and art organizations each year.

Building Out the Ecosystem

Consciously or otherwise, the funding decisions the city’s largest institutional and private funders have mapped to TDC’s findings concerning areas for improvement across Miami’s arts ecosystem.

In December of 2018, Knight announced a $37 million infusion of arts funding to Miami organizations while simultaneously releasing the findings of the TDC report. The funding focused heavily on small Miami arts organizations—precisely the kinds of organizations that, according to the report, are functioning with little or no operative reserves.

Knight also underwrote the development of the Bakehouse Art Complex’s five-year strategic plan and awarded the organization a $150,000 grant enabling curators to work with artists on site-specific projects. The complex, an arts facility in Miami’s Wynwood district, is planning to build 250 units of affordable artist housing on its two-acre campus.

Similarly, Pérez’s 2019 investments—the creation of the Jorge M. Pérez Award and Jorge and Darlene Pérez Prize, the Pérez CreARTE grants program, and El Spacio 23—all seek to cultivate the city’s working artists and small organizations, many of whom, I suspect, are being squeezed by rising rents.

The city’s working artists have other reasons to be optimistic. In March, the nonprofit ArtCenter/South Florida announced a $100 million plan to build a new $30 million, 40,000-square-foot-art center in the neighborhood of Little Haiti. The new space features 22 studios for residents artists, a 2,500-square-foot exhibition space, a 120-seat theater, as well as classrooms and work spaces. The center, which will be named Oolite Arts, is set to open in spring 2022.

Oolite Arts’ newly expanded mission is to beef up Miami’s arts infrastructure, said Dennis Scholl, the Oolite’s president and chief executive and, most recently, Knight’s former national vice president for arts. “We believe Miami is and should be a 365-day-a-year art town, not a five-day-a-year art town,” he said, in a not-so-subtle reference to Art Basel. “We’re going to do what we can do to support the artists in our community. We believe this is the natural next step.”

Sounds familiar, right? That’s not a coincidence. Oolite Arts is a 2018 grant recipient of the Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation.

It’s also worth noting that Pérez’s Miami-based giving isn’t limited to the arts. In June, his Related Philanthropic Foundation made a $1 million endowment gift to Florida International University’s think tank, the Metropolitan Center, which will now be known as the Jorge M. Pérez Metropolitan Center. The center provides applied research and job training initiatives and provides policy solutions to South Florida organizations.

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