Arts: Miami Beach Cultural Affairs: Producers of Sleepless Night and Advocates of the Arts

By John Zur

For nearly two decades, the Miami Beach Cultural Affairs Program has been making strides in assuring the community receives a healthy, and diverse, dose of arts and culture. With the third installment of the successful Sleepless Night coming this November, the department is excited to deliver the 13-hour cultural arts event as a product of their dedication and passion.

Funded by the resort tax one may find on their hotel bill, for example, those “quality of life funds” go towards the neighborhoods of South, Mid, and North Beach. While areas of public funding include landscaping, police, and sanitation, the City of Miami Beach backs Cultural Affairs as being just as deserving. And seeing as Cultural Affairs supports and promotes every art and culture-related event, program, and show on the Beach, the case for the allocation of funds is heavily supported.

“We’re the only municipal in the State of Florida not to cut art funds,” says Gary Farmer, Cultural Affairs Program Manager, supporting the fact by stating that the program is “important to the community.” In his sixth year, Farmer says they keep a steady budget and are looking forward to the benefits of 2011’s resort tax income; the strongest year during his tenure.

The Cultural Arts Council is an advisory board that works to “showcase Miami Beach as a cultural and artistic destination,” explained member George Neary, who has proudly served since its inception. When asked what he is most proud of about the accomplishments of the program, Neary replied “longevity,” elaborating to say that the Council “continues to assist arts groups to thrive.” During his tenure, Neary says he has seen the program develop into an important municipal in the community, bringing cultural visibility with events such as Sleepless Night.

Originally launched in November 2007, Sleepless Night is a completely free arts and culture event that takes place from 6pm to 6am on the night we push our clocks back and gain an hour. This year, the date is November 5 and over 150 arts experiences will take place at more than 80 venues across Miami Beach. Farmer, who expects at least 130,000 visitors – the number Sleepless Night welcomed in 2009 – says that the event “covers every aspect of the arts – film, theater, visual – and hits every audience segment.” He is excited to see the number of families who come out to enjoy the festivities.

“I talk to artists, critics, and festival producers… I hire the best local artists we can get and import other artists who will have an impact,” says Farmer, speaking about the preparations for Sleepless Night. Last summer, Farmer worked to bring street theater group Sarruga, from Barcelona, to the Miami Convention Center for their first visit to Miami. With their large, hand-made machines depicting the subjects of the eponymously named “Insects,” the show captivated the crowds for Sarruga’s first-ever indoor performance. This year, Farmer will welcome back Sarruga for their performance of “Fishes” up and down Ocean Drive on Sleepless Night. With an original music score, the bright and colorful machines – operated by crew on bicycles – is something “you can’t get in a movie theater or on T.V.,” says Farmer. “It doesn’t exist in the U.S.”

Farmer proudly presents other incredible artists for this year’s Sleepless Night, including Grammy Award winner Will Calhoun; Scottish street artists Surreal McCoy – “it’s just so odd,” said Farmer; electro-jazz cellist/composer Dana Leong; and The Dream Engine, innovative aerial performers.

As with many arts events and programs, especially those that are free, the real struggle comes with financing. Sleepless Night costs approximately $700,000 to produce. While The Knight Foundation has pledged $100,000 each year for 2011 and 2012, and Café Bustelo and Magic City Casino have stepped in with their own pledges, Cultural Affairs is still seeking the funds and sponsorship to fill in the rest. One idea Farmer has presented is to find an alcohol-related company to sponsor a responsible drinking program and the public shuttles.

Cultural Affairs receives funds and they also give money in the form of grants. Grants, as well as email blasts, and website content, are managed by the department’s Grants and Operations Administrator, Mary Heaton. The goal of the grants, which are 60% of the division’s 1.1 million dollar budget, is to assist in funding “artistic products for residents and visitors to enjoy and consume,” says Farmer. Working closely with the Bass Museum, who offers art instruction as part of in and after school programs, serves hundreds of children. Bass Museum, working in conjunction with Stanford University’s Institute of Design, launched the highly successful “IDEA@thebass” program with the purpose of stimulating creative thinking for children ages 5 to 11.

Also under the umbrella of Tourism & Cultural Development, “Arts in the Parks” came about five years ago. With residents surveyed every few years, the City came to the conclusion that the public wants more free arts events. Arts in the Parks offers concerts, plays, musical performances, and are free and open to the public. The Miami Beach SoundScape Cinema Series will take place on the southwest corner of 17th Street and Washington Avenue every Wednesday, with the exception of the week of Art Basel, beginning October 5th. Dubbed “The Living Room of Miami Beach,” Farmer says that more people come out for the movies than live performances. He explained they come with beach chairs, blankets, their children, and their dogs. The movies are rated G, PG, and PG-13 only. The film series was able to return thanks to a local family who was eager to sponsor. The Marilyn and Edward Gadinsky Charitable Foundation have made this season possible.

For more information regarding the work of Miami Beach Cultural Affairs, including listings of events, please visit mbculture.com.  There, you can also sign up for the weekly email with a rundown of upcoming events. Information specific to Sleepless Night can be found at sleeplessnight.org.  To learn about the Bass Museum and their programs, including “IDEA@thebass,” please visit bassmuseum.org.

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