It began as many great good things begin; that is, by accident. A composer of a certain stature was asked if he knew a good violin teacher. He did, and he put the would-be Paganini in touch with an instructor. Then the teacher came back and said he’d be delighted to do even more teaching, but he needed a place to hold classes. So the composer then offered the use of his living room. Within three months there were 40 students and 15 teachers and the composer’s apartment could no longer withstand the traffic. So another space was rented and SoBe Studio was born.
Flash forward five years and SoBe Studio is now known as the SoBe Institute of the Arts. It’s a bustling place, full of sound and vision and hopes and dreams. And it’s become the de facto home to both budding professionals and the pros that show them the way to the top.
The composer behind this accidental milestone is Carson Kievman, who is also now the Executive Director of Sobe Arts, as well as an instructor in both Composition and Theater. Kievman, who counts Tanglewood and the New York Shakespeare Festival among his many residencies, was, in fact, composer-in-residence for the now defunct Florida Philharmonic when fate further intervened in his future. And he’s as surprised as anyone that the Institute even exists.
“I’d been teaching up at Princeton at the time,” he told SunPost Weekly. “And I needed a break. So I came down here to compose. But after seeing how many people wanted to learn and how many teachers wanted to teach, I felt compelled to meet the need. Everything kinda snow-balled from there.”
Indeed it did. From that one-room Euclid Avenue studio, SoBe Arts now boasts a veritable campus of creative learning. There’s the flagship 1915 Carl Fisher Clubhouse (which once served as the founding Floridian’s golf course hangout), where one can take classes in everything from banjo to cello, an outdoor bandshell, where some of the end-of-season concerts take place, and then there’s the Little Stage Theater, a landmark 1937 structure where a cornucopia of dramatic arts programs are both taught and staged.
The entire campus is located in what’s called Miami’s Beach’s CANDO District, an unwieldy acronym that technically stands for Cultural Arts Neighborhood District Overlay, geographically comprises the stretch from Dade Boulevard to Lincoln Road, and is perhaps better left said in the more sensible “can-do.” According to Kievman, this move too was something of an accident, albeit one backed by intention and bolstered by a whole lotta sweat equity.
“I heard a State of the City address by then Mayor David Dermer announcing the formation of the CANDO District,” explains Kievman, “and I saw that it was missing a place for high level arts education, so I applied. And after some maneuvering we were given a summer trial run. Then we were given a season. Then a second, and a third, and in January we signed a five-year renewable lease.”
January was also when SoBe Arts unveiled the Little Stage Theater, which is where a lotta that sweat came in.
“At first the City was like no way, it’ll cost at least a half million dollars to renovate that space,” remembers Kievman. “We said we could do it for $35 thousand. It was a ton of work. But between the volunteers and the donations we did it.”
And it was good that they did too, because it enabled SoBe Arts to expand its theater program to encompass not just training, but the all-important staging as well, whether it’s akin to the cabaret which inaugurated the space, or the operatic reworkings of Shakespeare which are a spin-off of what Kievman did in New York for the late, great Joseph Papp.
But music remains the core curricula at SoBe Arts and though Kievman estimates a good one-third of its students are adults, the remainder is children, and they range in age from five on up. And no matter how precocious you may believe your child to be, here is where they get to prove it.
Teaching those students, young and old alike, is a full faculty of professionals, which is about as important to Kievman as the curricula itself.
“From the beginning we decided that only the most experienced would be on our staff,” said Kievman. “And we’ve stuck to that.”
Take Viktor Nikolov for example. The Bulgarian-born pianist is just the kinda high quality pro SoBe Arts insists upon. A former faculty member at the University of South Florida, Nikolov divides his time between Miami and Sarasota, where he also teaches at the private Allegra Music Academy. And while he teaches both children and adults, intermediates and beginners, one gets the impression it’s those kids which give him the most reward.
“It’s amazing to see a child come in and no nothing of the piano,” Nikolov told SunPost Weekly, “and then a year or two later they’re doing recitals.”
Such a student is a lad named Angel, who came to SoBe Arts at eight and is now something of a veteran, all at the ripe-old age of 11. Angel will be one of the many budding Rachmaninoffs on hand for the summer program, the first of which begins June 21 and runs through July 16 (the second runs July 19 – August 13). And he and his peers will also be showing off their chops at the conclusion of each session. It’s an all-encompassing program that helps separate SoBe Arts from some run-of-the-mill music class.
Kievman said he was inspired by CalArts and Julliard, and he’s assembled a team to back up that inspiration, not just on the front lines, but behind the scene as well.
Former Miami Beach Commissioners Saul Gross and Nancy Liebman are among the nine members of the SoBe Arts Board of Directors, as is Ray Breslin, president of the Collins Park Neighborhood Association and Mark Needle, a community activist with the Miami-Dade Department of Education, who is Board Chair. And among SoBe Arts’ distinguished Advisory Board is Diane Camber, former Executive Director/Chief Curator of the Bass Museum of Art, Jack Firestone, former Executive Director of the Louisville Orchestra, New World Symphony CEO Howard Herring and legendary hype man Charlie Cinnamon, who, since he’s handled the likes of Liza, knows more than a thing or three about musical theater.
Reached by email before deciding to profile the Institute, Cinnamon said SoBe Arts is “an extremely worthy organization that is creative and caring and forward thinking and deserves a great story.” And that’s one of the reasons you’re reading this right now
But we’d be singing the praises of SoBe Arts even without Charlie Cinnamon’s say-so, because we, like you, see the creative arts to be an integral part of our community. That means they should be taught, they should be learned, and they should be able to be experienced first-hand, from the cradle to the grave. SoBe Arts has set itself up as a kinda launchpad for the stars of tomorrow. Just as importantly though, it keeps us in touch with what matters today and every day, and that’s the twinkle in the eye which comes from one who’s been inspired.
See ya on the stage!
To find out more about the SoBe Arts Institute and their summer programs go online.