Cannonball artist-in-residence Matthew Evan Taylor on creating ‘Elemental Culture’ in Miami

Matthew Evan Taylor

Matthew Taylor. Photo by Neil de la Flor.

Composer Matthew Evan Taylor and his collaborator, Svet Stoyanov, create musical experiences with the intention of adding value to the community through the arts–especially music. This year, the duo created “Elemental Culture,” an experimental music piece that opened at the Coral Gables Congregational Church. “Elemental Culture” brought them to back to the basics: how to create works of art that have a tangible impact on the community and give back just as much as they take.

“Svet and I had a desire to build a cultural experience here in Miami that demonstrates the creative talent that lives among us,” said Taylor, who is currently winding down a yearlong residency at Cannonball Miami. “This vision is completely artist-driven and has been built to this point on Svet’s and my previously established connections to the community. The remaining element is audience participation: the more people buy into our vision, the better the experience will be for all.”

Taylor met Stoyanov in 2009 at the University of Miami, where Stoyanov is a well-regarded faculty member in the Frost School of Music. As many emerging artists would do, Taylor sought out the best.

“We finally hung out after one concert and found out we had a lot in common. We’re the same age, think constantly about how to attract new audiences, and we both love Earth, Wind and Fire. It was bound to work,” said Taylor.

When Taylor first arrived on Miami’s music scene in early 2009, the scene seemed limited to DJs at the Electric Pickle and mini concerts around Wynwood. Occasionally, Taylor would hear whispers about a local jazz hangouts, but did not encounter the type of vibrant scene one would expect from a major metropolitan city like Miami. Taylor wanted to change that. 

According to Taylor, the scene has improved over time, but there’s still work to do. “I think what we’re up against is that music is possibly seen as more disposable than the other arts,” Taylor said. “I was always struck by the level of dissatisfaction among the visual art community [with] the opportunities afforded them post-Basel. Svet and I wanted to do our part in building culture.”

For all its complexity and lack of sustainable, long-term employment for artists and musicians, Miami presents unique opportunities for artists to be seen–unless one happens to be an artist who doesn’t fit the Miami mold.

“Miami does a great job, I think, of encouraging young people of any background to be artists, musicians, dancers and writers. It is not so good in following through with that message when these artists try to live in the real world as an artist. And those that are more supported here tend to reflect one particular experience in Miami,” said Taylor. “Those that fit the Miami image are good artists and deserve their success, but there are other voices that are underserved here, especially when it comes to race, gender, sexuality, the environment and social class.”

This is where Cannonball steps in. The Miami-based arts organization–whose residency program, along with other initiatives, is partially funded by Knight–provides vital professional services and opportunities for local, national and international artists who create work that doesn’t fit any mold. It also provides artists with a much needed boost in a culture that’s only tepidly supportive of the arts.

“The Cannonball residency program has given me access and time. I have been able to meet dynamic minds in the arts and academia who have exposed me to new perspectives on topics that I had not thought much about,” said Taylor. “My talks with Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, Antena, Stan Cox and Mary Mattingly were particularly fruitful.”

With subsidized rent, Taylor was able to focus on his creative work rather than gig-hunting, which is important, especially in a city where cost of rent is higher than the national average. Since he’s taken up residence at Cannonball, Taylor has written five new pieces–one of which was premiered at the World Saxophone Congress in Strasbourg, France. Another is set to be recorded by the Pulse Ensemble Theatre company, and a third was chosen as crowd favorite at a concert at Indiana University.

Taylor and Cannonball are making things happen in Miami–tangible results that can be heard in the Midwest and well beyond.