It is no secret that the nation, if not the world, is deeply divided, if not altogether fractured -- particularly in light of tomorrow’s critical election results. However, despite this undeniable societal fissure, artists, activists, dreamers, thought-provokers and doers managed to coalesce this past weekend here in Miami, FL at the Creative Time Summit 2018 in order to collectively address and hopefully attack some of the greatest challenges that we are all faced with.
Creative Time, based in NYC, is an institution whose raison d’être is to commission and present purposeful public art projects in the US and beyond for the past four decades and counting. Its three underlying core values are that:
Artists’ voices are important in shaping society
Public spaces are places for creative and free expression
Creative Time brought the ninth iteration of its annual summit to Miami on 01 - 03 November 2018, hosting a kick-off party at the Pérez Art Museum Miami [PAMM], a full-day of engaging speakers at the Adrienne Arsht Center and finally, a day of “breakout” sessions held in various locations with deep roots in the community of Miami. This year’s theme, Archipelagos & Other Imaginaries: Collective Strategies to Inhabit the World, delved into thinking about the term “archipelago” as both a means to question the impacts colonialism/postcolonialism and to describe both geographically and metaphorically Miami’s historical connection to the Caribbean and subsequently as a further extension to Latin America and the world as a whole. The Summit was broken down topically across 4 subject areas (1. Facing climate realities, 2. Reimagining a green future, 3. Toward intersectional justice and 4. on boundaries and a borderless future) of which within no truly pressing issue of our time was omitted from the dialogue ranging from climate change, gun control, migration, queerness/gender non-conforming, privacy and security and current economic and political structures, to name a few.
While the aforementioned subject matter at hand might have you feeling like things are a bit dire in the world, these sentiments certainly dimmed in comparison to the vibrant and vivacious Opening Ceremony at PAMM on Thursday evening. Tidal Rage: Drag en La Frontera, produced by Fredo Rivera, served to introduce attendees to Miami with a drag show staged outdoors using Biscayne Bay as its backdrop. I hate to give myself up as a millennial with jargon but for real, the party was lit thanks to participating artists Bhenji Ra, KUNST, Miss Toto, Lolita Cabrón, Andro Gin, Dang Ho, Yu Sickning, Queef Latina, Karla Croqueta, Jupiter Velvet, Ded Cooter, Persephone Vonlips and Juleisy Inbed. Personally, I went Chiquita bananas for Karla Croqueta’s very tropicana-esque hat and amazing performance that showed out-of-towners that we bring it in the 305!
While it was difficult to behave oneself with all of the fun Thursday evening, we were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a full day of talks on Friday hosted in the beautiful Arsht Center. As artists, the talks certainly made us reflect upon how our voices could be used in an impactful and socially-responsible way through our work. While the themes discussed could be construed as “negative” (albeit reflecting realities) or steeped in pessimism (as many speakers themselves joked about) the ultimate outcome felt uplifting because there was a very real sense that WE, collectively, as part of an ecological system are talking, thinking and ultimately therefore doing something about it. That very notion could be applied to any of the issues on the plate but what comes to mind is a point made by Tim Morton, keynote speaker, who is a professor of philosophy and ecology at Rice University in talking about climate. He talked about how the inherent notion of guilt is the wrong approach to attacking climate issues and should in fact rather be supplanted with a notion of responsibility. As he put it, guilt works in the past whereas responsibility exists in the future. This “responsible agent” approach to tackling the pressing affairs of our time can easily be expressed while voting tomorrow (friendly reminder)!
To quote James Baldwin, who needs no introduction, and who was often cited at The Creative Time Summit 2018 in more than a handful of conversations:
“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know that we cannot live within. I use the word “Love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being or a state of grace - not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”
This specific quote was brought to my particular attention by Miami-based author and 2009 MacArthur fellow, Edwidge Danticat. In general, one major takeaway of the summit was that despite the dismal seeming of things the topic of LOVE came about time and again. Love came in visual artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons’ talk of themes of practicing love and in the land acknowledgement blessing shared by artist Samuel Tommie of the Seminole Tribe. Perhaps we can look to this very love, the love that Baldwin talks about, a love that requires action and growth to be understood -- not a passive, self-serving love -- will light the way of the paths we walk together to tackle the greatest issues of our time.
The third day of the event took place across the city of Miami where Locust Projects, PAMM, Little Haiti Cultural Center, and YoungArts (among others) played host to three different breakout sessions through the course of Saturday. I must admit that it was difficult to choose where to be amidst the plethora of interesting topics and venues.
To begin the day, I attended “Making Waves - Impact of Regional Regranting Programs Supporting Socially-Engaged Art | Round Table” at Locust Projects featuring a discussion hosted by Michelle Lisa Polissaint, Program & Outreach Manager at Locust Projects, Lee Heinemann, artist/organizer and Education and Community Engagement Manager at ArtCenter/South Florida, Jason Fitzroy Jeffers, a Miami-based/Barbadian writer and filmmaker, co-founder of Third Horizon, a Miami-based Caribbean creative collective and Cinematic Arts Manager at ArtCenter/South Florida and lastly Elizabeth Spavento, the Visual Arts Programmer for SPACE in Portland, ME. The purpose of the roundtable was to discuss the organizations and resources available to artists who create socially-engaged work and touched upon the responsibilities bestowed upon publicly-funded organizations to affect meaningful change in their communities. The talk was both interesting and resourceful and I particularly liked a point made by Polissaint, who highlighted the fact that Miami is experiencing a fairly recent and exciting momentum of a newfound sense of collaboration in the arts community that is propelling social change.
Pictured: Work of Nereida García-Ferraz
Next up was “Binary Code: Genders in Art | Panel” at PAMM which allowed some amazing women to showcase their work and talk about gender presentation in art. It was not too long ago that I posed for a group photograph of women artists in South Florida in the adjacent auditorium at PAMM, so it certainly raised a lot of points already familiar to me and left me with a sense of female camaraderie.
Last, but certainly not least, was “On an Island: Defending the Right to Create” at YoungArts which was highlighted by the undertakings of Yanelys Nuñez Leyva and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, persecuted Cuban artists and founders of El Museo de la Disidencia in Cuba as well as Julie Trebault, Director of PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection and Alison Russo, Director of IIE’s Artist Protection Fund. It addressed what rights artists or human beings for that matter have the to create and dissent in their respective environments and what resources are available to protect at risk artists. A major takeaway that requires international attention is an issue that Nuñez Leyva & Otero Alcántara are focused on: Cuba’s Decree 349 which seeks to criminalize art not sponsored by the government. The implications of such a decree are very real; Otero Alcántara was quick to point out that although the Cuban government has acted in nefarious and controlling ways, this is in fact the first time in around 60-years that something that looks a lot like censorship is being placed into written law. It beckons the question that if the arts and artists are subject to persecution and oppression what will fall into the government’s crosshairs next? So, if you’re reading this and you’re a US citizen, vote tomorrow AND do what you can to prevent Decree 349 from setting a dangerous precedent only 90 miles away!
The 10-year anniversary of the Summit takes place next year in NYC, the place where it all began but the lasting impact of its time in Miami will still resonate. It made me proud to be part of a community that seeks answers to so many issues like climate change and gentrification that not only impact the city in which we reside but the world as a whole. Until next year…