Swamp at Miami Book Fair melds diverse artistic disciplines, performances

Above: Image by photojournalist Carl Juste of a migrant detained at Guantanomo Bay Naval Base displayed at The Swamp, from his book “Havana and Haiti: Two Cultures, One Community.” Photo by Michael Bolden.

Last week marked my third month as a Miami resident and as the arts program officer for Knight Foundation. The past three months have been a whirlwind of meeting new people, learning to navigate Miami’s transit system as a resident of downtown and immersing myself in the arts and culture scene. The Knight employee manual does not define “informed and engaged,” “cultural authenticity” or “audience engagement”—words that we use to guide our grantmaking. Those words came alive for me at The Swamp at Miami Book Fair throughout last week.

Knight Foundation was the premier sponsor of The Swamp because the program, a Knight Arts Challenge winner, met our goals of engaging local audiences with a diversity of artistic programming that reflects the Miami community. From dance to poetry readings and live music, there were opportunities from Sunday to Sunday to enjoy live performances right in the heart of downtown Miami. The Swamp and its companion space, The Porch, turned a boring parking lot into a vibrant space with an indoor stage, food trucks, picnic tables and games (Jenga, anyone?). It was a space designed to step out of the bustle of the fair and engage with your friends and family in a variety of activities. The indoor space had comfortable couches and chairs, art installations, a stage and dramatic lighting. The whole space invited attendees to relax, connect and enjoy the show.

Book Fair co-founder Mitchell Kaplan. Photo by Michael Bolden.

On Tuesday night, I joined 90 other people to be a part of the World’s Smallest Poetry Reading hosted by O, Miami. Eight authors read poetry selections to attendees one by one in a tent set up on the stage. I loved the poetry, but what I loved more was the sense of community. Conversation flowed back and forth between artists from Bookleggers, Sweat Records and O, Miami with attendees and each other. There was a palpable sense of support and pride for the cultural scene in Miami.

On Friday night, after being exposed to a ridiculous amount of deep thoughts at the Knight-supported panel by National Book Award Finalists I headed over to The Swamp to drink a beer from Biscayne Brewery and enjoy some improv. Battlecat, the improv team from Miamah Comedy, had me laughing with references to all things literary.

Dance performance at The Swamp. Photo by Michael Bolden.

Closing out the weekend on Sunday night, I was able to enjoy the music and dance of two very different acts. First up were drag performers, Juleysi and Karla, in a Queer Quinceañera from Reading Queer. They were followed by Nkumu Katalay and the Life Long Project Band presented by The Rhythm Foundation. They all rocked. I am still finding glitter in my hair, and my legs are sore from dancing. You can find pictures via #miamibookfair on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The Swamp was fun. It was diverse. It was Miami artists sharing their version of Miami’s culture and engaging the community in the process. It was all the things that show how vibrant Miami’s cultural community is—and that residents are hungry for even more. As I continue to adjust to my position at Knight Foundation, I am excited to know that the foundation will be part of increasing access to the arts – all kinds of art – and celebrating what it means to live in Miami.

P.S. When you are in downtown go check out this installation from FringeProjects Miami by artist Nate Page.

Amanda Thompson is the arts program officer for Knight Foundation. Email her via [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @amandainmiami.