For some years now, Miami has been known as a venerable haven for the arts—a place with more museums, galleries, and performance spaces per square foot than most other US cities. But Miami’s rise in the arts scene was a rapid and meteoric one, as just a few decades ago there was essentially no arts scene to speak of here. In the 1980s, however, a dramatic shift took place that resulted in creative expression becoming the currency and lifeblood of the city. Before long, Miami had transformed itself into a vibrant and brimming cultural landscape. This transformation was due in great part to the contributions of a number of influential individuals in the city, and those who helped build up the arts in Miami are still very much a part of its current, thriving Miami art scene.
Mary Luft arrived in Miami in the early 1970s and has been involved in the city’s arts scene since the day she touched down. It didn’t take long for her to note a significant lack of experimental arts in Miami, and so she formed her own production company, Mary Luft & Company, which is now Tigertail Productions, one of the largest art institutions in the city. It’s pioneers like Mary Luft, those who do not wait for a cultural entity to be created but create it and build it themselves, that help propel the arts into existence. Luft’s Tigertail Productions has founded dance and art programs within the city; published books; hosted a myriad of shows, exhibits, and performances; and has even awarded grants to Miami residents who wish to pursue careers in the arts. This is how an arts scene is built, from the ground up, without ulterior motives. Everything that Luft has done to help build the cultural landscape in Miami has been out of a desire and passion for the arts. She was ‒ undoubtedly ‒ a pioneer, and remains a highly influential figure in Miami.
Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz
In 1975, Rosa de la Cruz and her husband, Carlos, settled in Miami by way of Cuba and Madrid. The pair amassed significant wealth in the beverage distribution industry and soon turned their attention to the world of contemporary art. Rosa and Carlos began collecting contemporary art more than 25 years ago, and since then they have become two of the most well-regarded art collectors in the United States. While the couple fell in love with Miami when they moved here, they were keenly aware of the city’s glaring lack of cultural and art institutions and decided to do something about it. Over the years, they continued to grow their collection until it became so massive and diverse that in 2009 the de la Cruzes opened a 30,000-square-foot museum. Called the de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space, it was designed specifically to showcase the pieces they owned to the public—at no charge. Such a dramatic move had a significant impact on the cultural climate of the city. Rather than simply purchase and collect art and keep it in their home, Rosa and Carlos opted to share what they owned via a free museum that also runs a series of art courses and programs. It is clear that they wanted to share their love for art with the city they love in order not only to support the arts in Miami, but to encourage its continued growth. For good reason, the de la Cruzes are monolithic figures in the Miami art world.
Another key figure in Miami’s art boom is Martin Margulies. As with the others on this list, Margulies arrived in Miami when the arts scene here was just beginning to show the possibility of blooming, but was still rather barren. He had a gigantic collection of contemporary art that was housed in his home on Grove Isle, but in 1998 ‒ following the advice of his curator, Katherine Hinds ‒ he decided to open The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse in Wynwood. The 45,000-square-foot non-profit gallery would serve to display many of the pieces Margulies had collected through the years, and would also function as a space that could host exhibitions and educate the youth of Miami about the arts. Moreover, Margulies and the Warehouse played a role in Art Basel coming to Miami, and the impressive space has housed and participated in many exhibitions during the international festival. As a prolific and influential collector, Margulies introduced Miami to the work of many world-famous artists who had never been displayed in the region. The diversity and excitement that his collection has yielded ‒ along with the numerous donations he’s made and art programs he’s founded ‒ have helped build and maintain the thriving art scene in Miami.
Don and Mera Rubell
Don and Mera Rubell have been collecting contemporary art since the early ’60s, and in past 40 years or so their collection has grown exponentially. In 1993, the Rubells founded what is now known as the Rubell Family Collection and Contemporary Arts Foundation. While their 45,000-square-foot public museum displays their perpetually expanding collection, their Contemporary Arts Foundation has a full research library and offers various internships and lectures as well as programs for students in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools district, an official partner of the foundation. Like others on this list, the Rubells have exhibited a clear sense of giving back and working to extend the art scene in Miami. They have also helped build what is now one of the most intriguing art scenes in the US, and they use their influence to ensure that Miami’s cultural profile continues to expand well into the future.
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Note: This is a guest post by Candace Schaffer; the views and opinions expressed are those of the author. Candice Schaffer works at Knightsbridge Park, a leading digital marketing firm for luxury real estate brands such as Four Seasons Private Residences and Fasano Hotel and Residences at Shore Club.