Defunding NEA will impact Miami arts


Right in the middle of fancy restaurants and upscale department stores and souvenir shops on tourist populated Lincoln Road sits an art gallery tucked into a corner, one you will probably miss if you don’t quite know it is there.

The South Florida Art Center has served as the home of artist residency programs, exhibitions, educational programs and community outreach initiatives in Miami since the early 1980s.

However, it was not always tucked away virtually out of sight. Until late 2014 the arts center held a coveted spot on Lincoln Road, an “unmissable fixture” to the strip that drew attention from tourists and locals alike. The arts center made the decision to sell in order to gain the necessary resources to improve and expand upon its services.

The property sold for a whopping $88 million to South Beach TriStar 800, which plans to use the space for retail purposes.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the Art Center to expand its influence in the growing Miami arts scene and broaden its ability to offer the best-quality programs, impacting an even greater and more diverse audience,” SFAC chair Kim Kovel told Miami New Times when the organization made the choice to sell.

The decision begs the question why the South Florida Art Center had to compromise such a wonderful location in order to grow as an organization and it seems the answer is an extraordinary lack of funding in the arts.

There is no denying that the arts are an important cultural facet of all communities worldwide. However, there is also no denying that receiving funding for the arts has proven difficult.

This is why many were outraged when news spread of the Trump Administration’s plan to defund the National Endowment for the Arts, an independent federal agency that uses government funds to support and promote artistic endeavors in the community. The organization has given more than $5 billion since it was first established in 1965.

“[The NEA] helps support our missions statement,” said Deborah Lehman Di Capua, Development Director of Locust Projects, a not-for-profit exhibition space in the Miami Design District. That mission statement is to be what she calls an “experimental platform for artists to trial a new idea” without the pressure customarily placed by gallery sales or limitations on their creativity.

Locust Projects also provides educational programming free to the public in an effort to support the local community. While Di Capua mentions that they have a few other methods of raising money to keep the organization running, she stresses the importance of grants they have received saying the eliminations of the NEA “would hit us hard.”

Just in 2016, The National Endowment for the Arts awarded 53 grants to Florida galleries, art festivals, initiatives and educational programming. The grants totaled to nearly $2 million, almost half of which came to South Florida to organizations like New World Symphony, Miami City Ballet, Florida International University, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, South Florida PBS and others.

According to reports from the political publication The Hill, the administration’s new budget aims to reduce government spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years. The proposed changes include considerable reductions in funding for the departments of Energy, Commerce, Transportation, Justice and State. Programs under these departments may see major cuts, elimination or be transferred to other agencies.

It does not end there, as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would now be privatized and the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated in their entirety.

The implications of these decisions could cause major issues is Miami, a lively city full of culture that seems to, taken as a whole, value the arts. From Wynwood to the Design District, from Miami Music Week to Art Basel and a host of diverse events celebrating culture through arts, the city is defined by the arts in many ways.

“Supporting cultural projects promote cultural understanding, have an inherent value to society, and offer a unique blend of benefits including their impact on social issues that concern virtually every facet of American society,” said Bianca De Moura, a grant writer for Rhythm Foundation, a non-profit music organization that strives to promote international music that caters to the cultures of South Florida.

The local government has made decisions that make it evident that it sees the importance of art and helping individual artist flourish such as Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs ordinance passed in 1973 requiring 1.5 percent of construction cost of new county buildings be used for the purchase or commission of artworks.

Not for profit organizations like Locust Projects and South Florida Art Center seem to share that belief as they both offer similar freedom to South Florida artists by making their services free and or affordable for South Florida Artists and the community.

“Miami was a great place for artists in the 1990s, but it is not what it used to be,” said George Goodridge, artist in residence at the South Florida Arts Center.

The 3D artist who was offered the opportunity to work in the arts center’s printing room after his residence was technically due to end, speaks of a struggle to sell his art and find funding. He argues that for individual artists it is near impossible to receive funding because it goes to larger non-profits or galleries and so on.

Still, through the grants received, organizations are able to support individual artist but the process is all very competitive.

“The arts are a sound investment,” said De Moura.

While the current landscape for the arts may seem bleak, De Moura has vowed to remain persistent in finding ways to support initiatives that make South Florida what it is.