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The Fountainhead Residency: Miami

There’s a quaint, one-story single family house in Morningside. On any given day, in one room, a photographer from New York could be planning his next award-winning shoot. In another, a painter from Israel might be working on a new masterpiece. Perhaps in the final room a Miami-based sculptor is modeling her next installation.

This is the Fountainhead Residency, a program created by Dan and Kathryn Mikesell, two Miami-based art enthusiasts who have been collecting art for more than 18 years.

Kathryn Mikesell

Kathryn Mikesell inside her Morningside home, which neighbors the Fountainhead Residency house.

Eight years ago, the Mikesells launched the program out of a house in their own neighborhood. During the residency, the couple flies artists to Miami from wherever they may be and gives them a place to live and work, alongside two other artists. In part, the couple simply wanted to learn where creativity comes from.

“We’ve always loved artists and we just wanted to spend more time with them. I wanted to get to know what it means to be a creative person,” Kathryn Mikesell said. “What happens when [an artist] wakes up? How do you say I’m going to paint, or come up with a sculpture? What does that even mean?”

Moving art to Miami

Ultimately, the residency aims to encourage creatives all over the world to look to Miami as a place where they might be inspired and supported.

“It frustrates me that so few artists can make a living off of what they do. Outside of doing the best I can for my family, I feel like my calling is to create opportunities for artists, and that also means creating more appreciators of art,” she said.

The residency has inspired some, like photographer Wyatt Gallery, to move to Miami permanently. “I was in the residency from March to May of last year,” Gallery said. “The residency … allowed me to free up my mind and make work I wouldn’t normally focus on. It helped me experiment and play around a little bit more.”

During his time at the residency, Gallery worked on several projects. He organized and edited the book Jewish Treasures of the Caribbean, which will be publishing soon. He also worked on a project in which he visited gentrifying neighborhoods throughout Miami and photographed walls where people had painted over graffiti. He also began a series called Subtext, in which he painted paper boards and then photographed them outside of the Residency house. 

One of his projects is exhibited in the house itself. He created an installation in the bathroom that reads “You are beautiful” along a mosaic of shower tiles. The goal was to create daily reminders to live a more empowered and grateful life, according to Gallery.

Prior to his time in the residency program, Gallery had visited Miami many times, but he never thought it would be a place he could live and succeed as an artist.

“[The Mikesells] brought me here and gave me a free place to live in an amazing neighborhood and connected me to great people. [They] allowed me to have an easy and smooth transition,” he said.

In addition to space in the house, and access to collectors, museums, and an international network, the artists in the residency program have access to studio space at the Fountainhead Studios in Little River.

“I think it’s great for the art community and for Miami, because you’re bringing accomplished artists to a city and exposing artists around the world to Miami. It’s an art community that the world isn’t really aware of. The residency does a good job of bringing in talented artists into the art scene of Miami and showing them a side of Miami they didn’t know about,” he added.  

The Fountainhead Studios

The Fountainhead Studios were also started by the Mikesells in 2008, when Kathryn Mikesell teamed up with Steve Rhodes, a property owner in Little River. At the time, Rhodes owned a big, empty warehouse just off of NW 71st St. “I just asked him for an empty space, and told him I could fill it,” she said.  

“We put tape on the floor and created our first studios. When we got five artists on board, we got our first air conditioner. And with the next five, we got another air conditioner,” Mikesell recalls.  “As we grew, people started putting up walls, and all of a sudden, it just happened. And we built a community.”

Andrea Nhuch, a Brazilian mixed media artist, currently works in the studios. “I knew I wanted something big. I was working with plaster and interested in caustics and I wanted air space, and other studios were very structured. It didn’t feel like I could be messy,” Nhuch said.

While working at the studios, she meets new artists and learns from them by simply being in the same space every day. “I meet other artists while washing our brushes in the sink, or waiting for the bathroom,” she said. “I’ve learned techniques from other artists, and I’ve loved the intellectual and technical dialogue we have.”

Editor’s note: This paragraph has been edited for accuracy. 

‘Open to sharing. Open to doing.’

In 2014, Rhodes sold the Fountainhead Studio space to Little River Miami Investments. “We bought several buildings in July, and I think the artists were nervous at first,” according to Avra Jain, a managing member. But Jain has no plans to move the artists, because she believes preserving the space “is the right thing to do.” She explains, “We value the fact that they are an anchor to the neighborhood, and that’s what makes the Little River Industrial Zone an arts community.”

Now, in just eight years, more than 300 international artists have gone through the Fountainhead Residency program, and almost 30 artists call Fountainhead Studios their creative home. “The artists are a part of a community, feeding off one another and inspiring one another,” Mikesell said.

And it all started with one couple’s passion and desire to support the arts. “In Miami, you have the ability to make a significant impact, which is unlike any other city in the world. We are still so young and have so much energy passing and room for growth. We have the eyes of the world on us right now,” she said.

As she sees it, “You can do a lot with very little. A lot of what we do is just… Doing. Host events, bring people together, try to be there when artists need someone to talk, lend a helping hand, give an introduction. Just get out there and be open to sharing. Open to doing. Just do something.”

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of artists that had completed the residency. It has been corrected.