Mapping Miami is a public art and archive project about Miami’s artistic past. Through the project, the goal is to “map” Miami by creatively linking historic information on artists (including visual artists, dancers, musicians, actors/actresses, and writers) to geographic sites and spaces where artists have lived, produced work, or visited in Miami, Florida during the time period: 1920’s – 1950s. Through collaborations with local partners including researchers, artists, libraries, and archives, the aim is to extend the life of archival and born-digital materials and make this information and content widely accessible and engaging.
By way of a little background on Miami’s history: the city was once heralded as America’s Winter Playground. Many significant artists have visited, lived, and produced artistic works in Miami during the 1920s – 1950s including Desi Arnaz, Esther Williams, and Zora Neale Hurston. However, the city’s history, especially its art history, is largely unknown even to people living in Miami. Heavily influenced by internationally significant events, places and people, this time period witnessed:
- The extension of Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad to Miami at the urging of Julia Tuttle in 1896, following the Great Freeze of 1895 that decimated citrus crops in Florida;
- The boom of Overtown (then called Colored Town), heralded by 1913 opening of the Lyric Theater. It became known as the “Harlem of the South” and was frequented by popular Black musicians and singers such as such as Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, and Ella Fitzgerald;
- Rapid Architectural design and development, including the world’s largest concentration of 1920s and 1930s resort architecture now known as the Art Deco District in Miami Beach and the first planned city of Coral Gables;
- Two major hurricanes in 1926 and 1928 that destroyed areas in South Florida and coincided with increasingly difficult economic times across the nation in the Great Depression;
- An assassination attempt against President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 15, 1933
- Coastal defense lines against German submarines in Miami Beach during World War II;
- Racism and discriminatory laws and social practices that mirrored national regulations restricting access as well as goods, services, and places to live to many including people who were Black or Jewish that were in effect until the late 1950s;
- Major shifts in societal gender roles and rights in the United States significantly marked by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution establishing women’s suffrage; and
- An ever-growing influx of people to Miami from around the world seeking refuge, work, leisure, and business opportunities. This includes Bahamian immigrants and northern American business people in Miami’s early years (1890s – 1920s); GIs who made their home in Miami following WWII (1945 – 1950), including a large percentage of new Jewish residents; and Haitian and Cuban immigrants seeking refuge (1950s – 1960s).
Mapping Miami tells the story of the city’s history through the arts and encourages people to get out and visit the places where artists have lived and worked.
For instance, did you know that Zora Neale Hurston lived on a boat near the MacArthur Causeway in 1950?
With the Graduate Grant from the Arts of Citizenship, I have been able to partner with Jennifer Tisthammer at the Deering Estate. This partnership has been a critical step in moving the project forward. Jennifer has encouraged me to think beyond the boundaries of the academic or artistic aspects of the project, and toward the potential it has to energize neighborhoods and local organizations. With that in mind, we have sought to engage with potential collaborators in academic, artistic, government, and nonprofit sectors to help build the project.
A lot has happened since we received the grant. Here are a few exciting developments:
We have a new, customized map designed by Danielle at Creative Crossroads!
We have acquired two more photographs! One of Marjory Stoneman Douglas from the Special Collections at the University of Miami, and one of Billie Holiday from the archives at HistoryMiami.
We’ve continued to reach out to web developers for insight and estimates for the website. It’s more expensive than I originally thought, so we’re looking into more grant opportunities.
Six more Mapping Miami cards are in production and they will use our new map. So far there are cards for Zora Neale Hurston, Desi Arnaz, and Katherine Dunham.
In July 2011, the Deering Estate was featured on WLRN’s Art Street, and they interviewed me about Mapping Miami. See the video here: http://youtu.be/Foj9WLtwQ3I
I was invited to present Mapping Miami at the Latin American Studies Association on a panel entitled, “Miami’s Cultural Mappings,” in May 2012.
Thanks for reading about Mapping Miami and the work we’ve been doing over the past several months. If you want to stay up-to-date on the project and more of my work, please sign up for my mailing list or check out the “News” section of my website.