Articles by Neil de la Flor

  • Article

    Meet Miami's newest novelist

    September 23, 2015 by Neil de la Flor

    Later this fall, thousands of authors, publishers, agents and book lovers will descend upon Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus for the Miami Book Fair International–an annual event during which Knight Foundation supports a variety of programming. Since its inception in 1984, this eight-day literary event has grown into one of the largest book fairs in the world. Scheduled this year for Nov. 15-22, the fair will culminate with the Festival of Authors on Nov. 20-22, when more than 450 writers will read and discuss their work with the public.

    This year, the Festival of Authors will feature an increasingly diverse and inclusive cross-section of authors from around the world, including Latin American and Spain. But that’s not all. The book fair has made a conscious effort to include traditionally marginalized voices whose work is often underrepresented, and sometimes outright dismissed, across the publishing world.

    Enter Vanessa Garcia, a Miami-based artist, playwright, author and teacher. Her first novel, “White Light,” was just published by Shade Mountain Press, one of the few presses committed to publishing women. Garcia, who will read her work at the Miami Book Fair during the Festival of Authors, discusses her first novel and what it took to get it published.

    Vanessa Garcia, a Miami-based author who will be participating in the Miami Book Fair International.

    Like many artists, you juggle (for lack of a better word) multiple careers–writer, artist, teacher and executive director of The Krane. Beyond the requisite “how do you do it all” question, I’d like to know how these interrelated careers inform your artistic center? I have never seen my career as “multiple” in the sense that I feel like my life and my work are one. They walk the same line. When I teach,  it comes from the same place that I write from, make art from. It comes from the same well source or engine–the thing that drives you to connect. Teaching, in other words, is an act of creation. For me, everything is like that…

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    Rising Tide: A Story of Miami Artists

    November 12, 2012 by Neil de la Flor

    Rising Tide: A Story of Miami Artists

    risingtide

    Jen Stark, “Rising Tide: A Story of Miami Artists.”

    As we all know, the art apocalypse is coming soon. Between December 6-9th, the oceans will rise and the heavens will open up and swallow us whole as legions of art collectors, artists and art groupies descend upon our magical oasis of neon and glass, imported sand and limestone for Art Basel Miami Beach 2012—at least this is what I’ve been told.

    CNNMoney reports that Art Basel injects between $400-$500 million dollars into our economy through art sales and related purchases by visitors—restaurants, hotels, nightclubs and Starbucks all stand to profit. There’s no debate that Basel’s impact is enormous, but its impact on the artists that live and work here in Miami is (or was) less certain.

    What happens before Basel’s glitz and glitter is no longer a mystery. Its cultural impact is documented in a new film, Rising Tide: A Story of Miami Artists (created with the support from the Knight Foundation) which was produced, directed and edited by Andrew Hevia. This Wednesday, WLRN will air Rising Tide, which documents the creative life of seven young visual artists who live and work in Miami. The documentary features Jen Stark, the TM Sisters, Venessa Monokian, Funner Projects, Brookhart Jonquil and Brook Dorsch (Dorsch Gallery owner).

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    The Haitian Caribbean Book Fair honors Danticat, Férère and Diederich

    May 17, 2015 by Neil de la Flor

    Publishers at the HC Book Fair 2014 Publishers at the Haitian Caribbean Book Fair 2014. The third annual Haitian Caribbean Book Fair, a Knight Arts grantee, will be held this weekend, beginning with an opening reception on Saturday evening and running through Sunday, May 24th at the Little Haiti Cultural Center.  The Haitian Caribbean Book Fair is part of a boom in literary culture in South Florida. Not too long ago, the Miami Book Fair International was the only major literary festival in town.   Today, the literary landscape is booming, thanks in part to the Knight Foundation's support of local organizations, such as the O, Miami Poetry Festival, Tigertail Productions, the Reading Queer Literary Festival, and The Writer's Room at The Betsy Hotel, among others.

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    Mikhaile Solomon primes Prizm Art Fairs to promote neglected voices in contemporary art

    February 8, 2016 by Neil de la Flor

    Mikhaile Solomon primes Prizm Art Fairs to promote neglected voices in contemporary art

    Above: A scene from Prizm art fair. Photo by Rod Deal.

    During last December's art fairs, I checked out Prizm Art Fair, a 2015 Knight Arts Challenge winner, and had the opportunity to speak with its founder and director, Mikhaile Solomon. Solomon, who established Prizm in 2014, curates cutting-edge multidisciplinary art fairs that promote artists from the African diaspora and emerging markets.

    Solomon founded Prizm because she saw a need to foster the careers of artists who have been traditionally marginalized from and fetishized by the art world.

    “There wasn't enough representation of artists of color being shown in a professional manner,” Solomon said. “Having gone to quite a few art venues, including Art Basel Miami and in Switzerland, I found few examples of work from artists from the diaspora, and their voices were grossly underrepresented.”

    For a combination of reasons, the art community hasn't, until more recently, made substantial and broad enough investments in the careers of black artists, especially those emerging and mid-career artists who are at a critical juncture in their professional development. Without a platform, there's little room for these marginalized voices to be heard.

    “Just recently there's been a heightened interest in African and African diaspora art,” said Solomon. “Prizm is one of just a few institutions that represents these artists and this kind of work. Prizm seeks to establish that African and Africa diaspora art is not a trend, but a real and thriving component of the art world.”

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    FUNDarte's Out in the Tropics Festival 2015

    April 29, 2015 by Neil de la Flor

    The 2015 Out in the Tropics Festival, produced by FUNDarte, a Knight Arts grantee, runs from Tuesday, May 5th through Saturday, May 9th. The festival features work from innovative local, national and international GLBTQ artists, including Chely Lima, M. Lamar, Marga Gomez, Caridad Svich and John Moletress. M. Lamar. Photo by Michael Benabib. M. Lamar. Photo by Michael Benabib. The festival opens on May 5th at 7 p.m. with an LGBTQ community panel and reception at the LGBT Visitor Center on Miami Beach. The panel, which is free and open to the public, is one my favorite events of the festival because it offers the community the opportunity to communicate and connect with the artists. On Wednesday, May 6th, poet Chely Lima will share work from his latest book, Urano Purpura, a collection of previously unpublished poems that narrates the complexity of the author's experiences living as a trans and bisexual man.

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    Here & Now 2015 opens this week at the Miami Light Project

    May 6, 2015 by Neil de la Flor

    A few weeks ago, in full stealth-mode, I snuck into the Miami Light Project to borrow their bench and ice-cold air. A rock was propping the side door open. It was hideously hot, and the air conditioning at the Wynwood Warehouse, where I was working across the street, wasn't cutting it. I'm not shy, so I walked in. I hate to sweat. While I sat on the bench, I heard voices, music, footsteps wonderfully merge into a semi-melodic, circus-like symphony. And that's when it hit me. They were rehearsing for the 17th annual Here & Now festival, which commissions and presents local works. Here & Now 2015 will feature new work from Miami-based artists Liz Ferrer, Lazaro Godoy, Hattie Mae Williams and Michael Yawney.

    Hattie Mae Williams. Hattie Mae Williams. I got up. Pulled out my laptop. Walked toward the music. I found Godoy, Mélanie Martel and Carlota Pradera gearing up and stretching to rehearse for Harmonicum Accordion / Act I, Godoy's homage to circus life via the story of a dysfunctional family. I sat on the cement floor as Godoy talked about the concept of the performance and the soundtrack played on loop in the background. "

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    Poets of Cuba and its diaspora come together for a rare literary event organized by O, Miami

    April 11, 2016 by Neil de la Flor

    Cuba-based poet Soleida Ríos.

    In Cuba on his recent and historic visit, President Obama made it clear: Let’s bury the hatchet, build bridges and move forward together.

    On Friday, April 15, O, Miami, which is supported by Knight Foundation, will do its part to normalize relations through literary culture. O, Miami is pairing four acclaimed poets living in Cuba with four acclaimed Cuban-American poets living in the United States for an event called Building Bridges: New Encounters in Cuban Poetry. The reading and discussion panel will feature Cuba-based poets Oscar Cruz, José Ramón Sánchez, Soleida Ríos and Marcelo Morales, and U.S.-based poets Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, Yosie Crespo, Carlos Pintado and Joaquín Badajoz.

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    Miami dancer Niurca Márquez to fuse local history and flamenco in Knight-funded performance

    August 5, 2015 by Neil de la Flor

    Miami dancer Niurca Márquez to fuse local history and flamenco in Knight-funded performance

    The Pioneer Winter Collective won a 2014 South Florida Knight Arts Challenge grant with its proposal for a site-specific performance initiative called Grass Stains. The project aims to articulate an exchange between a work of art or performance, and the place in which that work of art is set. Taking performance out of theaters and into streets, parks and cultural sites throughout Miami-Dade County opens up the possibility of transforming the urban landscape into a stage.

    Dancer and choreographer Niurca Márquez, one of the Grass Stains artists, will use her funding to shape traditional elements of flamenco and embed them within the architecture of Miami. In this interview, Márquez documents her process and plans for developing her work-in-progress.

     

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    Tigertail offers an event-packed 2015-16 season for South Florida

    September 15, 2015 by Neil de la Flor

    Tigertail offers an event-packed 2015-16 season for South Florida

    President Obama’s recent trip to the Exit Glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska wasn’t just a hike in the woods. For the President, this trip signaled the importance of global climate change and the forces of mother nature on human ecology. Their almost unknowable, yet certain, impact on the environment, the global economy and culture is both unsettling and exciting, because with every challenge, opportunities for real change emerge.

    Tigertail Productions–a Knight Arts grantee, as well as a 2011 and 2013 Knight Arts Challenge South Florida winner–reveals the power and beauty of Mother Nature in its 2015/16 season. The highlight of the season will be “Water,” a series of site-specific performances that will be held throughout Miami in April of 2016. That said, “Water” is just one event in a season packed with artists, performances and opportunities for community engagement devised and brought to us by Mary Luft, Tigertail’s founder and executive director.

    Here’s a brief look at what’s to come from Tigertail, per Luft.

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    Jai-Alai Books' P. Scott Cunningham on helping craft Miami's literary identity

    September 30, 2015 by Neil de la Flor

    Jai-Alai Books' P. Scott Cunningham on helping craft Miami's literary identity

    In 2014, Jai-Alai Books won a three-year Knight Arts Challenge grant to create a local publishing house and help shape the Miami’s literary identity. Executive Director P. Scott Cunningham wore a cesta (a basket used in the game of jai alai) on stage that night to receive the award. “It was a fun night,” Cunningham said. “And winning the award was a tremendous validation of our idea.”

    With the grant, Jai-Alai Books has steadily expanded its catalog, and the press recently introduced the Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize, which will be presented by the Cave Canem Foundation. The prize will fund the publication of a chapbook-length manuscript by a black poet, who will also receive a $500 award and a one-week residency at The Writer’s Room at The Betsy Hotel–a program that is also a Knight Arts Challenge winner.

    In this interview, Cunningham talks about fashioning Miami’s literary identity while maintaining his own mojo as a writer. He also wants would-be authors to submit book proposals during the 2015 Miami Book Fair International.

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    Lip Service founder Andrea Askowitz steps down as head of South Florida storytellers group

    October 14, 2015 by Neil de la Flor

    Lip Service founder Andrea Askowitz steps down as head of South Florida storytellers group

    After nine years of bringing true stories from the Miami community to life, Lip Service creator Andrea Askowitz is stepping down as head of the organization. Her final Lip Service show is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 24, at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables.

    Lip Service started as a free event at Books & Books. In 2012, the organization won a three-year Knight Arts Challenge grant, and it has grown into a highly anticipated quarterly literary showcase featuring eight South Florida-based storytellers.

    “The thing I love about Lip Service is how willing people are to tell their stories,” says Askowitz, who produced 40 shows, worked with close to 300 storytellers and saw audiences grow in size from 60 to 600 during her tenure. “I mean, to tell the parts of themselves that may not always look pretty. And our audience is the best in the world. When someone’s nervous on stage, when I’m nervous on stage, I feel emotionally buoyed by the love and support of our audience.”

    Lip Service tapped into our community’s need (and every community’s need) to share and connect with each other through personal narratives.

     

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    Seeing you in us: An interview with TransArt program manager Aryah Lester

    June 20, 2016 by Neil de la Flor

    Activist Aryah Lester leads a vigil. Aryah Lester is a force for change, breaking down the barriers to acceptance faced by transgender and gender nonconforming people. With her fierce dedication to art and advocacy, she is methodically melting away our society’s stifling and deadly obsession with conformity. Change isn’t easy, and neither is acceptance, but it’s possible and necessary. In 2015, Lester was included on Trans 100 List, “an annual list of 100 trans Americans accomplished in the fields of advocacy and art.” As the current program manager for TransArt, a two-week festival of transgender talent, vision and possibilities co-produced by Unity Coalition and The Betsy-South Beach, Lester will demonstrate just how possible it is for art to advocate for change. TransArt also demonstrates the important role local institutions like The Betsy hotel, a Knight Arts grantee, and Unity Coalition play in making Miami a more just and safe place for all the people who call this city home. TransArt represents a cultural opening-up to transgender people, including artists, writers, activists and everyday Americans who’ve worked, suffered, died and thrived on the periphery. The Betsy-South Beach and Unity Coalition have helped foster and create visibility for the TransArt Festival. How has their involvement furthered the festival’s mission? Initially, I had envisioned [TransArt] as a one-day event showcasing local artists who happen to be transgender, to highlight our narratives outside of the negativity we face daily. At a meeting a couple of years ago, both Deborah Briggs of The Betsy-South Beach, and Herb Sosa of Unity Coalition, realized the idea aligned with their own visions. The Betsy hotel has a thriving philanthropic arm in the arts, and Unity Coalition focuses on the cultural arts of the LGBT communities. They pooled their resources, connections and networks to build events highlighting transgender talent from around the nation, as well as locally, to produce our TransArt series.
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    Is Little Haiti the next Wynwood?

    July 22, 2015 by Neil de la Flor

    Is Little Haiti the next Wynwood?

    On opening night at Laundromat Art Space, a new artist-run collective on the corner of Northeast Second Avenue and 59th Street in Little Haiti, artist Andres Martinez unfurled a giant sign over the front of the building. “Sorry we're open,” it read.

    The words are an obvious nod to gentrification and its potential impact on a community, as both the sign and the opening of Laundromat herald a new phase of arts-fueled gentrification in Little Haiti–one that may have unintended consequences for the close-knit neighborhood.

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    Choreographer Marissa Alma Nick explores life in South Florida post-climate change

    August 28, 2015 by Neil de la Flor

    Choreographer Marissa Alma Nick explores life in South Florida post-climate change

    Adaptive Chassis:SFL” is a site-specific performance piece created by dancer and choreographer Marissa Alma Nick for Grass Stains, a project that was one of the winners of the 2014 Knight Arts Challenge South Florida. In the work, Nick addresses life in Miami after climate change. Can we stop it? And, if not, can we survive it? These are the questions Nick asks us to consider.  

    I ran into Nick at Kush (recently voted Most Green Restaurant in Florida by the Nature Conservancy), where she was meeting with her collaborator Sebastian Ruiz, a Miami-based visual artist. I was eating Key lime pie at the table next to them as they mapped out plans for “Adaptive Chassis:SFL.”

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    'MelanchoLalaland': Knight Arts Challenge winner pioneers high-tech opera-making

    August 31, 2015 by Neil de la Flor

    “MelanchoLalaland”—an opera conceived by composer and Florida Atlantic University professor Joey Bargsten—opens Sept. 13 at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. The transmedia work, which won a Knight Arts Challenge South Florida grant, presents a not-so-distant, dystopian future in which a drug giant called Melancuria Inc. peddles happiness. It’s a future where drive-through pleasure pods can simply pop up, providing users a reprieve from existential angst and anxiety.

    Combining traditional opera with animation, videography and electronic music, Bargsten is charting a risky new course for opera-making. It was at the 2015 FilmGate Interactive Festival that I first encountered a work-in-progress version of “MelanchoLalaland,” and at the time, it felt oversaturated with ideas and gimmicky. Even though what was presented was only Act I, it lacked the coherent narrative arc that a fleshed-out opera can communicate.

    However, Bargsten says he and collaborator (and wife) Thea Zimmer have spent the last seven months perfecting and refining “MelanchoLalaland” for its upcoming, full-length premiere.