MDC Live Arts celebrates its 25th season with strong programming and $25 tickets

Photos: Geoff Sobelle and Annie Saunders in “Holoscenes.” Photos by Lars Jan, courtesy of MDC Live Arts.

For 25 years, MDC Live Arts, formerly known as Cultura del Lobo, has brought the most eclectic and innovative contemporary choreographers, dance companies, performance artists and musicians from around the world to Miami. In 2003, MDC Live Arts brought American-Mexican singer Lila Downs to the Olympia Theater, and it was one of the most astonishing concert experiences of my life. The 2015-2016 season lives up to the spirit of past programming with debut performances from Combinado Argentino de Danza, Joan Soriano, Timbalive, Camille A. Brown, Teatro Cinema and more.

Under the current leadership of Kathryn Garcia, the Knight Arts Challenge-winning organization has further expanded its reach beyond performances by connecting visiting artists with artists in the community. Through workshops, labs, lectures, conversations and residencies, along with pop-up and site-specific performances around Miami Dade College campuses and the city, MDC Live Arts is reaching more and more residents, and providing the community with cutting-edge contemporary culture that is accessible to almost everyone. I spoke to Garcia about what audiences can look forward to in the coming months.

Dancer and choreographer Camille A. Brown. Photo courtesy of MDC Live Arts.

The 2015-16 season of MDC Live Arts is already in its second month, but there is an extensive lineup of performances yet to come. What excites you most about this coming year? It’s our 25th anniversary–we are 25 years strong! We are celebrating an incredible legacy of bringing amazing artists to Miami. So many artists have had their debut here because of MDC Live Arts: Bill T. Jones, Ravi Shankar, Esperanza Spalding, Astrud Gilberto, Mario Bauzá. The list is really quite extraordinary. It’s been 25 years of making deep connections with communities across Miami through the performing arts, and that is something we are really proud of and motivated by.

This season we have so many great performances in store, it’s hard to choose just one, although I personally love to dance, so I’m really looking forward to our new social dance series at the Koubek Center. [It started with] the Little Havana Social Club, which just took place Oct. 2. Next in the series is the Dominican Republic’s ‘Duke of Bachata,’ Joan Soriano, on Jan. 29, 2016 and Miami’s own Cuban salsa supergroup, Timbalive, on March 18, 2016.

Turnout is always a challenge, especially when competing for cultural dollars in a competitive landscape. What is your strategy for drawing in traditional audiences and reaching out to new audiences? We’re happy that we have a number of free and low-cost tickets to celebrate our 25th anniversary. In keeping with our longstanding commitment to accessibility, all shows this season are $25 or less. We truly believe that cost should not be a barrier to enjoying live performing arts and pride ourselves on this as a distinguishing factor of what we do. We are also launching a new effort to deepen our relationship with students through a new Student Ambassador initiative on all campuses, as well as our new Live Arts On Site series, which brings brief pop-up performances out onto campuses and into public spaces.

Through the Live Arts On Site series and our various educational programs, we create multiple opportunities to work with people in different communities–which, in turn, widens our reach. We’re also doing this by live-streaming many of our shows this year, which will allow people to get to know our work, wherever they might be. Most importantly, we make sure we bring extraordinary work, providing memorable experiences for our audiences to keep them coming back.

The Live Arts Lab, a component of MDC Live Arts, has brought internationally recognized artists to Miami to lead intensive workshops for local artists. How has Knight funding enabled this program to grow, and how has the program benefited the community? Knight funding launched the Live Arts Lab. And thanks to that funding we’ve been able to present three sessions of the Live Arts Lab featuring three very different artists in different disciplines and genres. We also used the model to present a mini Live Arts Lab with one company on our season last year. That means there are four cohort groups of artists who have worked intimately with guest artists on our season, with each other and with us. In addition to providing rigorous professional development for these cohorts, it has provided community. It has also provided inspiration and professional networking. We hear from many alumni about projects they are developing that were sparked during the labs and [who] maintain working relationships between artists.

Miami is undergoing a massive cultural transformation. From your perspective, if you could transform one aspect of our cultural community, what would you change and why? More days in the year, more hours in the day so that everyone can experience everything at a time when there is so much amazing stuff going on in Miami. It’s such a challenge to find the time to participate in the arts with the busy lives we lead. I wish that people could have the time they need to attend events, be with community, have time with family and, of course, to have incredible live arts experiences.

Can you tell me about your selection process? This generally involves seeing work at different gatherings, staying involved in the field on a national and international level to know what’s out there and what people are talking about. It also involves speaking with artists about their vision and connecting to what our community is passionate about. We look for things that are the most outstanding in every way–performances and artists that really move people in creative and meaningful ways.

We consider what types of things our community will respond to, work that is relevant to our very unique community. For example, “Holoscenes,” a multidisciplinary installation performance that we will be presenting during Art Fair Week, addresses climate change and sea-level rise. This is an issue we are threatened by in our tropical paradise every day. How could we have flooding constantly in the news and not talk about it? Talking about it through art is speaking Miami’s language. “Holoscenes” also speaks to Miami as an arts spectacle–challenging ideas about installation and about performance.  

MDC Live Arts staff. Photo courtesy of MDC Live Arts.

Running an arts organization requires a person to wear many hats, and it can be as exhausting as it is rewarding. What keeps you going? I’m really driven by a need to contribute substantial opportunities for people to get together in real space and real time and celebrate what is most beautiful about the human race–our creativity, our expression. A couple of seasons ago, we presented filmmaker Sam Green with indie band Yo La Tengo in a show about Buckminster Fuller. Green declared that the act of gathering in a theater to experience a performance is in itself “an act of idealism,” which Bucky would have admired. He was referencing the experience of people getting together outside their bubbles to come together as a community. That’s how I see it. I really believe that Miami deserves the best. It deserves access to the best artistic expressions that are out there, and we’re motivated to bring that to our community.

Also, MDC Live Arts is driven by an amazing team. We keep each other going as an incredibly close-knit, inspired and capable gang. We love working together and making things happen together, so there is no stopping us!