Jordan Levin

Miami’s YoungArts Foundation launches a visual arts residency program with Suzanne McClelland

The YoungArts Foundation’s home on Biscayne Boulevard is mostly open space — a wide plaza surrounding two compact towers that once housed the Bacardi offices. And that fascinates artist Suzanne McClelland.

“It seems like YoungArts is taking a swath of land that used to be a corporate headquarters and turning it into something else,” says McClelland, whose recent work focuses on how people mix in public spaces. “I love the fact that a corporate headquarters is being transformed into an open cultural environment. To me that’s a really optimistic move.”

McClelland will bring her curiosity and the creative results of her observations about public space and community to Miami as YoungArts’ first visual artist in residence. The new program is sponsored by the Related Group — whose CEO is art collector and patron Jorge Perez — with an eye toward fostering cultural activity in Edgewater, the bayside neighborhood near YoungArts where Related has four condo projects in the works.

“Part of our philosophy is not just to build buildings, but to enhance neighborhoods and develop a cultural center around what we build,” says Related’s art director Patricia Hanna, who oversees the company’s art collections and initiatives. “Urban centers are not just towers with people in them, but places where those people can walk out and see a film or an exhibition.”

The McClelland residency is the latest in a string of activities that YoungArts has been adding to its core program of fostering talented teenage artists in the national and regional gatherings known as YoungArts Week. New events have included salon-style discussions with performance artist Marina Abramovic and actor Robert Redford, and a multimedia environmental performance by Redford’s artist wife, Sibylle Redford. The foundation’s campus will eventually be transformed by architect Frank Gehry, envisioned as an ambitious cultural center to create, teach and showcase the performing, visual and media arts.

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In the meantime, YoungArts president Paul Lehr says they’re working on creating programs to fill and enliven what they hope will be a major year-round cultural hub in downtown Miami.

“Investing in the artistic community of South Florida is really consistent with our artistic mission … to foster appreciation and support for the arts in our society,” Lehr says. While the program is well known nationally, thanks to famous master teachers like Placido Domingo and Mikhail Baryshnikov and an HBO series, Lehr says YoungArts, founded by Carnival Cruise Lines magnate Ted Arison and wife Lin Arison in 1981, is less well-known in its hometown.

“This is where we were born and raised,” Lehr says. “So we thought it was particularly important to establish ourselves in this community, and to give back and add to the cultural landscape.”

McClelland will be in Miami for 10 days starting June 26, returning at a future date, gathering inspiration for a project to be exhibited here. A well-known painter who has shown at galleries and museums internationally and will be part of this year’s Whitney Biennial, McClelland was selected by a committee of YoungArts advisors. In the future, three resident artists will be chosen each year from an open pool of applicants, receiving an honorarium of up to $10,000, money for travel and art expenses, housing at a Related building and studio space. While in Miami, the artists will offer at least three public programs — workshops, discussions and the like — and create original work to be exhibited here.

Lehr says the program is the first of a series of residencies in various artistic disciplines, with a dance residency launching later this year. Activities could range from developing new performances with local talent to teaching master classes.

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“I want to look for great opportunities to bring in fantastic master artists who can work with young artists and the community,” Lehr says.

The Related Group, like many developers and corporations, has art in its buildings and public areas. But the company has a particularly strong artistic profile. Perez donated $40 million in cash and art to the downtown museum that now bears his name, and he has focused on his interest in art in recent years. His company’s buildings are in high-end areas like South Beach, Brickell, downtown Miami and Edgewater where culture is a crucial ingredient in the image and quality of life that lure wealthy buyers.

Recently, Related has been adding other arts activities to its visual art collections, hosting the O Miami poetry festival this year. Their sponsorship of the YoungArts residency came about after Perez arranged for three YoungArts alumni to create sculptures for a park at Iconbay, a 42-story luxury condo building under construction in Edgewater.

“Related wants to branch out and encourage artistic programming,” Hanna says. “The idea is to do this more and align ourselves with great organizations.”

McClelland admits she knows little about Miami. She does remember her grandmother telling stories of stopping off here on her way to vacation in pre-Revolutionary Cuba, and she has visited here a number of times. She has often collaborated with writers and other artists, and started her career in New York’s East Village in the early 1980s, when artists taking advantage of cheap space unwittingly pioneered a real estate boom in what has become a pattern for the gentrification that transformed South Beach and is currently changing Wynwood.

In Miami she’ll investigate phenomena that have interested her lately: the way people mix together and behave in public places; and how free community spaces like parks and town squares are being supplanted by shopping malls, sports stadiums and other commercial zones. She arrives in Miami at a time when surging development in the center of the city has made conflicts between private enterprise and public space, like the debate over putting the Beckham soccer stadium in downtown’s Museum Park, a hot issue.

“I’m interested in hearing and seeing how people interact and where that happens,” McClelland says. “A lot of American cities are short on public spaces. People are either in their own private property or a business. We had that in the early 20th century, and it started to go away with the mall era — everything became business oriented.”

“Everything has become so exclusive — admission into spaces and parties and clubs and airlines all have priority this and privileged that.”

McClelland praises museums in general — and the Perez Art Museum Miami in particular — as some of the few remaining accessible gathering places. And she believes the YoungArts campus could be a potent cultural site. “The thing I love is that there’s this plaza,” she says. “It seems possible to create a real meeting place. If we could design spaces that are not centered around shopping I think people would be happier and interact with each other in a different, less competitive way.”

Given her belief in the value of public funding and space, there is some irony in McClellan’s residency being sponsored by a developer of expensive condos. But she says the growing cultural shift from public to private funding has also made art, and places to experience it, more dependent on wealthy people and corporations.

“Now everything is supported by private developers and individuals,” she says. “It’s a treasure hunt for public spaces. Much as I wish public spaces weren’t provided by private entities, that seems to be the way of the world right now.”

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