Development shouldn’t displace Miami artists. Here’s a solution

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Once upon a time, there was a neighborhood. The rent was cheap, the community colorful and diverse, the conditions ripe for experimentation and creative expression. Artists and cultural purveyors – noting an opportunity to set up shop in a community that embraced their individualism – decided to move in. The neighborhood began to flourish, first with murals and block parties, and later with restaurants and indie shops.

But soon, real estate developers, too, began to take note. They also perceived tremendous opportunity in a neighborhood where the land was cheap, the community colorful and diverse, the conditions ripe for high-end national retail chains and luxury condos. The neighborhood dynamic began to change, and with it, the affordable rent. The artists moved on, the residents were displaced, and the neighborhood landed on a Conde Nast list of the “Top Five Cities to Visit in 2018.”

So goes the tale of countless cities across America, and one that most artists and residents are familiar with here in our own backyard.

It shouldn’t be surprising, or even disheartening, that the scent of commercial opportunity would lead developers and big businesses’ noses straight to the arts. Since the arrival of Art Basel Miami Beach in 2002, the local arts scene has changed dramatically, and it is now possible to interact with and consume culture every night of the week, year-round. In 2017 alone, the arts had a $1.4 billion economic impact, creating as many as 40,000 new jobs and bringing more than 16 million cultural attendees to the city.

These figures place Miami in the ranks of cities like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Chicago, where steps are being taken to guarantee affordable housing and workspace for artists. These cities understand the role that artists play in their economic growth, and keeping artists within city limits is at the top of their agenda.

Now, the City of Miami is creating its own public art ordinance that would require a percentage of development budgets be earmarked for public art. The cultural community fought the initial draft of this ordinance, arguing that the requirement would likely leave out local artists and galleries in favor of national and international wunderkinds.

The City re-wrote the ordinance to include a very unique provision: Percent-for-art funds could be used for public art, or the developers could elect to build affordable housing and workspaces for artists in exchange for permission to add more units to the development, aka density incentive.

With many developers already installing art on their properties, they’re likely to choose the latter. That means that artists living and working in the City of Miami won’t necessarily be displaced at every turn for new development, and that they’ll be able to afford to live and create, while developers will be required to honor the artists that paved their path to profit.

The ordinance, of course, is not perfect. But I hope that it marks the City of Miami’s acknowledgement that it needs to do better for its underserved communities, and that the artists who will benefit from this ordinance will recognize their own responsibility to pay it forward.

They’ll bring art to a wider, more diverse audience. They’ll inspire, educate, and engage with folks who perhaps haven’t had much exposure to a creative life. They’ll enter the schools and the community centers, activate otherwise forgotten spaces, and uplift the cultural roots of a neighborhood in an honorable, respectful way because they know they’ll be able to stay in that neighborhood.

Art brings business, but it also brings life, and if we can manage to balance the scales between developers and artists, I believe we are taking an important step toward making Miami a more equitable city.

On July 31, Creator’s Lounge will be hosting a panel on the ordinance – which will be up for a vote in September – with Commissioner founder Dejha Carrington, City of Miami Public Art Chair Efren Nuñez, Greenberg Traurig attorney Iris Escarra (who helped write the bill), Fountainhead founder Kathryn Mikesell, and developers FAT Village and Barlington Group, who have already incorporated affordable space for artists into their business model.

This is an opportunity to get a better understanding of how this ordinance might benefit the larger community. If you want to show your support, email or call your commissioners. You can locate yours here, and we’ve provided a template so your communication is as effective as possible.

I believe that this ordinance is a first step in honoring the artistic community’s role in Miami’s growth while providing an important economic incentive for the developers behind it.