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Neil de la Flor

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    Above: An event at The Light Box. Photos courtesy of Miami Light Project. Beth Boone has been at the helm of Miami Light Project, as both its artistic and executive director, since 1998. I sat down with Boone at Zak the Baker in Wynwood for a one-on-one interview. Over an eggplant skillet, rugala and powdered donuts, we talked family, local politics and PBS, as well as the past, present and future of the South Florida-based cultural organization. Even before Boone found a semi-permanent home for the Miami Light Project at The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, she had already curated watershed moments in cultural programming in Miami. From Nina Simone to the Tiger Lillies, the Knight Arts grantee has and continues to present some of the most innovative and significant musicians and performers from around the world–all in the name of bringing Miamians together through the performing arts. Beth Boone. “Human beings have an innate desire to commune with others–to collectively experience ethos, pathos. That’s why theater has been going on for thousands of years. As human beings, we’re just trying to figure out what it all means,” says Boone. “Theater can be a positive experience in the communion between the audience and the artist, which is what I think everyone is looking for.” Boone views the stage and the artists who inhabit it as realizers of the human experience. “Through their experiments, artists show us the human experience. Sometimes they show us the answer. Sometimes they just call up the question and leave it up to us to decide what’s next,” Boone says. “Miami Light Project exists for those moments.”
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    Above: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Robert Battle's “Awakening.” Photo by Paul Kolnik. If you haven't experienced Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, it's time. The company's performances and community outreach programs are excellent ways to introduce your children, nieces and nephews, grandkids and the neighbors' kids, to the splendor of Ailey. It may change their lives. In his new book, “My Story, My Dance,” Miami native Robert Battle reveals just how important Ailey was to his career, and how it led to his current position as artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. As a boy, Battle wore leg braces, but overcame this challenge to pursue ballet. Ailey inspired Battle to step into his dreams regardless of the challenges ahead, and today, Battle leads one of America's most storied dance companies. That company is returning to Miami for a series of five performances at the Arsht Center as part of the Knight Masterworks Dance series. Taking place from Feb. 18-21, the performances will include “Revelations,” the Alvin Ailey company's signature choreographic work, as well as the premiere of “Awakening,” Battle’s first original choreographic work since taking the helm of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Robert Battle. Photo by Andrew Eccles. What was it like balancing your role as artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater with choreographing “Awakening”—your first new work since assuming your current leadership position in 2011? I waited five years before I choreographed “Awakening.” The role of artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, as you can imagine, is a huge, not only responsibility, but honor. Waiting five years gave me time to at least adapt to this new place in my life and in my career, so that when I went back to choreographing, I was ready to choreograph. It was almost a relief being in the studio as a choreographer again. It was like greeting an old friend being in the studio with the dancers, and I think for the dancers, it was also this rite of passage making a brand new work. It was a lot of fun, actually. It was kind of seamless in that way. As someone who grew up in Liberty City, you must be very familiar with the racial divide that splits our city and schools into worlds of haves and have-nots. What tangible impact can art, especially dance, play in the lives of all kids growing up in the world of have-nots? I think dance has a huge role, and certainly Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater does its part in helping to achieve that. For me, growing up in Liberty City, the notion of being able to go and see an Ailey performance, being bused there to see a mini performance was huge, obviously, for a kid like me. But having the performing arts in schools or having programs like AileyCamp for at-risk youth is extremely important. We have to constantly do more to expose young people, especially in disadvantaged neighborhoods, to dance and to the performing arts so they not only feed their bellies, but feed their souls. It feeds the imagination, and the imagination defies place, time and circumstance. So it’s extremely important to young people.
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    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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    Above: Hattie Mae Williams, Ana Mendez, Jenny Larsson, Stephan Koplowitz, Niurca Márquez, Agustina Woodgate, Marissa Alma Nick, Monica Lopez de Victoria. Lack of diversity in the arts isn't fiction. It's real, as most recently evidenced by the 2016 Oscar nominations. The Academy Awards controversy got me thinking: What are we, the Miami arts community, doing at the local level to foster diversity from the ground up? I posed this question to Pioneer Winter, director and founder of Grass Stains. This Knight-funded, site-specific performance initiative grants $5,000, plus logistical support and one-on-one mentoring, to South Florida-based choreographers and performance artists. “All six current artists are female,” Winter said of the Grass Stains cohort, adding that the selection process, “boiled down to the strength of their applications. While performance (especially dance) is saturated with women artists, more men hold positions of leadership. I'm happy these artist-leaders are women. Each of them is incredibly different, so this will make for intriguing and vastly disparate premieres.” The Grass Stains application process is open to anyone. Out of the 57 applicants, six women were chosen by three panelists—Mary Lisa Burns, a dance educator from New World School of Arts; choreographer Stephan Koplowitz; and gallerist Anthony Spinello. Based on the quality of their proposals, which included video samples and a written component, Jenny Larsson, Marissa Alma Nick, Hattie Mae Williams, Niurca Márquez, Ana Mendez and Agustina Woodgate (who is represented by Spinello), were awarded grants.  “We will continue to impartially select artists based upon their artistic rigor and honest interest in site-specific work,” said Winter. “The panel did a terrific job in sifting through many applications—sometimes by artists who had no true interest in site work, but saw only the commission fee. The artists selected are now part of a cohort that will continue to benefit from working with Grass Stains long after their projects are completed.” Among the selected artists are several Hispanic names, but Hattie Mae Williams, a well-known Miami-based artist, is the only black woman in the group.
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    Kenny Riches. Photo by Colin Fugit. A couple of years ago, BuzzFeed offered 37 reasons why Miami is the best and weirdest city in America. The list is, of course, that “Miami Vice”-like cliché that we'll never shake, which is fine, but we're so much more than chicken gangs, tricked-out cars and old men who wear Speedos while riding bikes. BuzzFeed, we also have an art scene—a thriving art scene of visual artists, performers, choreographers, musicians, poets, filmmakers and more whose work building the community really makes us the best, weirdest and most awesome city in America. Miami has stories—wild stories, serious stories, cheesy, funny, uplifting and downright tragic stories. And one day one (or many) of those stories will end up on the big screen and possibly redefine who we are as a city. Kenny Riches is an artist and filmmaker who is working onscreen and behind the camera to support Miami's thriving indie film industry. Thanks to a recently awarded Knight Arts Challenge grant, Riches will launch a series of roundtables for local screenwriters to get real time feedback on their scripts–scripts that may change America's (and BuzzFeed's) perception of Miami. You won an $8,000 Knight Arts Challenge grant to strengthen the indie film community in South Florida with a  roundtable for screenwriters. Tell us a bit about your project. The roundtable is designed for screenwriters and filmmakers to share what they are currently working on and get feedback from their peers. In order to participate, the writers must also trade off as readers, and after each table-reading, the discussion is opened up to share critical feedback. Everyone is expected to bring new pages, participate in reading and give/get feedback to and from one another. How will the roundtable benefit the local and national indie filmmaking community? Miami is already making waves in the indie film world, and my hope is that programs like this will help push it even further. The goal of the roundtable is to encourage productivity, as well as open critical dialogue to advance the quality of writing and films coming out of South Florida. There is a strong regional aesthetic in Florida, and I think the next few years are going to be important for indie filmmakers here.
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    In an era of iPads and Kindles, Tom Virgin yearns to return to an analog form of publishing. The founder of Extra Virgin Press, Virgin won a 2015 Knight Arts Challenge grant in support of his plans to help preserve the art of letterpress printing by bringing it to Miami. Invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century, letterpress printing revolutionized the literary world, and the culture writ large, by enabling works to be copied and widely distributed for the first time. But letterpress printing fell out of fashion by the mid-20th century, and the digital age, with its on-demand printing and e-books, further pushed it to the margins. Despite the commercial demise of the letterpress, however, Virgin sees a bright future for this ancient art form. Why is the art of letterpressing still relevant in the digital age? Choices are vital, for a number of reasons. This time of year, after a week of Art Basel Miami Beach, followed by a couple more weeks of holiday glitz, it would be easy to conclude that everyone likes big, bright, shiny, colorful things to hang in every corner of every room. Some do. But for each outfit decked in glitter, rhinestones and patent leather, we see a black silk dress or cashmere sweater that quietly steals the show. As Miami moved into the 21st century, most of the deluxe mid-20th-century printing technology moved out. The ease of desktop publishing in the digital age has supplanted the esoteric, anachronistic practice of hand printing on a proof press. It has not, however, matched the quality and visceral attraction of letterpress printing. I proposed and was funded to bring a letterpress to Miami, so that I can teach this practice to a new generation. Ceremony, heirlooms and craftsmanship that have been handed down for generations celebrate our history and values. We appreciate the craftsmanship of objects when we can see it and feel it. True, art is beautiful when it is posted on Facebook, and of course the words are brilliant when they are tweeted. However, a small, finely bound, poetry chapbook that includes only a poet’s favorite poems in a letterpress-printed volume offers a different hierarchy of quality. Actually seeing, smelling and touching the letters embossed into the cotton rag paper with an aromatic, opaque, deep black ink is more powerful than reading it on your cell or a tablet. Things that are made to last a long time, take a long time to make. Reproductions are placeholders for the originals. Letterpress printed cards, posters, broadsheets and other printed forms carry the active hand of the artist into the work. Multiple originals is another eu­phemism for editioned prints or multiples. The artist and printer together must figure out, step by step, how to translate an original work into a small, faithful copy of the original with multiple runs through the press. However old the technology of letterpress may be, it has a wide range of skills and tech­niques available to recreate with the press what was originally created by hand. A Vandercook 4 Proof Press is a precision instrument that was among the best printing machines for over a half century. The work that is printed lasts, and wears well. We print party invitations on the laser printer at work (in color, if we are lucky). Wedding invitations that are designed to honor a union for generations are printed on a letterpress. Posh? Yes.
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    South Florida-based author Michèle-Jessica (M.J.) Fièvre self-published her first novel in Haiti at 16. Since then, she's published nine books, including a children's book “I Am Riding.” Her latest title, “A Sky the Color of Chaos,” marks her first memoir. The book is a coming-of-age story that documents Fièvre's turbulent relationship with her father and his violent mood swings during a time of fierce political upheaval in Haiti. From the balcony of her childhood home, Fièvre witnessed her first politically motivated killing—a man set on fire in the middle of the street. This would be the beginning of a childhood punctuated by daily violence at home, on the streets, in school and especially after midnight, when thugs loosely aligned with the 'government' would terrorize neighborhoods with impunity. Because of, or in spite of, this violence, Fièvre carried a pocketknife on her way to her all-girls Catholic school. From that day on, she became a bit of a bully, eventually stood up to her father–and, well, you'll have to read the book to find out the rest. On Jan. 29 at 8 p.m., Miami audiences can experience Fièvre's work in person. She will be participating in a panel discussion, “Chaos, Dictatorship and Rebirth,” at Knight Arts grantee Books and Books in Coral Gables. Author M.J. Fièvre.  How has your perspective of Haiti changed since you left, and how much of it never leaves you? In Port-au-Prince, I felt like I was both holding the knife and under it. The striving for control—and fumbling with violence—is a central theme in “A Sky the Color of Chaos.” The violence still inhabits me: I have terrible night sweats, and pain, and suffer from the phantom limb that is my motherland.
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    Jai-Alai Magazine. Art Basel and the Miami Book Fair are over. Now, it's time for Jai-Alai—the Miami-based literary magazine that's revealing our dynamic culture of local writers and artists. Founded by Scott Cunningham and the University of Wynwood with the help of a Knight Arts grant, Jai-Alai Magazine was conceived as a series of 10 issues that began with Issue 10 and will end with Issue One. The magazine publishes Miami-based (or Miami-connected) poets, fiction writers, essayists and artists.  This Thursday, Dec. 17, from 7-9 p.m., Jai-Alai Magazine celebrates the release of Issue Three at Lagniappe, renowned for its barbecue-grilled churrasco and craft beer selection. The public event, which is free (food available for purchase), will feature live readings from recent contributors in a quintessential Miami setting.   The release party also marks the opening of submissions for Issue Two. So, all of you Miami writers (or writers who write but don't consider yourself writers), listen up. It's time to submit your work—whether you think it's good or not. Submit your essays, stories, poems and drawings to Jai-Alai Magazine's digital submissions dropbox, or visit the publication's website. “The goal of Jai-Alai Magazine has always been to place exciting work from Miami next to the most exciting work from around the world. Miami, as a place, is full of surprises, and we hope the digital submission system makes those surprises possible,” Cunningham said. The deadline for submissions is Jan. 10, 2016.
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    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 not 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.
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    Every night through Nov. 15, a series of “experiments in light, color and sound” will dance across the entire 19-story facade of the InterContinental hotel in downtown Miami. Described as performative architecture by the project’s creators, the installation, which is known as “Newt Miami,” takes inspiration from Isaac Newton’s theory and lifelong obsession with light. Beyond the science, which I could spend all day getting lost in, “Newt” promises to bring more than flashy colors to Miami’s skyline. According to co-founder and producer Dejha Carrington, “Newt” will connect the community to the project with a series of ancillary events scheduled for this week, including a self-explanatory event called Caffeinated Conversations and a panel and Q&A session about transforming spaces through technology and art. Knight Arts Challenge winner Nu Deco Ensemble is the orchestra for the installation. “Newt Miami” co-founders Dejha Carrington and Kelly Nunes at Primary Projects, with artwork by Gavin Perry. Photo by Peter Vahan, courtesy of “Newt Miami.” What do you hope will be the cultural impact of “Newt”? How we choose to use our public and privately owned spaces plays a defining role in how we experience our communities and our social interactions. In the same way that my partner, Kelly Nunes, and I imagined the InterContinental Miami’s exterior facade as a canvas for an art installation, we hope that our creative take on performative architecture will inspire others to pitch their ideas, and will help illustrate the value of artistic collaboration to corporate groups. Through social practice, there’s a unique opportunity to make residents and audiences participants and decision makers in the creative process. We’re interested in sparking more talk about the relationship between spaces, public art and locals, and how projects such as “Newt Miami: Experiments in Light, Color & Sound” can serve the dual purpose of activating a static structure and creating connections through meaningful programming and activities. What were some of the unique challenges getting “Newt” up and running? There was a very real learning curve, both for us and the InterContinental Miami, because there was no precedent for such a project. Kelly and our team worked closely with them and Fresh Juice Global, their production and content support company, to push the existing technology beyond its intended use. “Newt” was built from the ground up and workshopped for almost one year before we even knew what was possible with the digital canvas.  
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    For more than 25 years, Karen Peterson, founder and executive director of Miami-based Karen Peterson Dancers, has spread the word: mixed-ability dancers are dancers. Full stop. Recently, the company performed at “A New Definition of Dance” in Tampa, Fla. With funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, this international mixed-ability showcase featured artists from all over the world–ballroom dancers from Eastern Europe, hip-hop artists from Canada, traditional Chinese dancers from Beijing, drumming dancers from Africa. Seeing all of these artists with disabilities teach and perform their art demonstrated to Peterson that the dance world has changed since she founded her company 25 years ago. But there’s always work to do. Peterson, who won a Knight Arts Challenge grant in 2011 to support her mission of inclusive dance, now splits her attention between supporting mixed-ability dancers across Miami-Dade County and her other, perhaps greater, challenge: fundraising. She says all she needs is the support of the community to keep going.