Friday May 8th, 2015
Photo by World Red Eye
When the National YoungArts Foundation took over the iconic Bacardi headquarters in the Edgewater neighborhood of downtown Miami in 2012, it was evident that we had a great task ahead of us: How could we use the arts to activate this historically-designated architectural landmark whose history was so associated with mojitos? It was a challenge that our 34-year-old organization embraced.
One of the many architectural gems that the Bacardi family built is known as the “Jewel Box” – a colorful, two-floor, stained-glass sculptural mushroom that sits atop a bright orange pedestal. Completed in 1975, the 360-degree stained-glass mural representing the rum-making process was designed by S.E.A.R. under the direction of Gabriel and Jacques Loire of Chartres, France and based on an abstract painting by German artist Johannes Dietz. In its former life, the building, designed by architect Ignacio Carrera-Justiz, housed Bacardi’s accounting department. Outside the Jewel Box is the open-air YoungArts Plaza – 47,294 square feet of space anchored by concrete tiles with the symbolic Bacardi bat stamped in the middle.
The Plaza begged to hold big gatherings. It was this very space that YoungArts decided to activate as a community center for the Arts. Welcome to Outside the Box – a play on the familiar term as well as the literal sense (we are outside the Jewel Box!). With generous support from ArtPlace America, we took Creative Placemaking to heart and initiated a bold, five-event series that welcomes not only art enthusiasts but all residents and visitors – a majority of whom, as it turns out, have never before stepped foot on the Bacardi-turned-YoungArts property. The idea behindOutside the Box was to feature some of YoungArts’ 20,000 alumni, giving them the opportunity to innovate and collaborate with other alums or established artists across the 10 disciplines that YoungArts targets. They are given the beautiful Plaza as center stage, and YoungArts provides technical/production assistance and other resources.
With that in mind, we launched our first Outside the Box on October 25, 2014 with an interdisciplinary performance featuring various amazing YoungArts alumni in music, dance, etc. It was a gang of eight alums from different years, coming together with less than three days to rehearse and create something new and innovative. What resulted was a performance and improv-blowout titled “Some Assembly Required,” at which audience members were asked to participate and the performers followed their lead, creating on the spot. About 450 people attended – a record number for something brand new and “Outside the Box” in structure. The free public engagement also show cased local food and beverage vendors, a yoga studio, a nitrogen ice cream stand and, of course, free cotton candy! But more important than the complimentary sugar rush, it was the first time the local Miami community got to experience what YoungArts does not in a leased theater, but on our own property in an iconic space that people had driven by for years but never had a chance to enter. Outside the Box was off to a great start: activating an unused space with multidisciplinary art, bringing new audiences to the neighborhood, and reflecting the YoungArts mission of identifying and nurturing the next generation of artists.
Coming off that high, our next venture was into the world of short films and virtual reality, in partnership with the Miami-centric Borscht Film Festival, a film fest created by two YoungArts alums, Andrew Hevia (2003 Winner in Cinematic Arts) and Lucas Leyva (2005 Winner in Writing for Film). On December 16, 2014, our Plaza and the Jewel Box interior were magically transformed into a sweet carnival of innovative virtual reality games, a pop-up poetry slam involving fake snow, a series of short films (many directed by YoungArts alumni), a mechanical shark ride, and of course – free cotton candy. The Plaza was flooded with young hipsters, older experimental film buffs, and everyone else in the middle for this Outside the Box.
Our third Outside the Box took place April 18, 2015 in homage to April as Poetry Month. “The Langston Hughes Project’’ was a multimedia concert performance of Hughes’ Ask Your Momma: Twelve Moods for Jazz, featuring the Ron McCurdy Quartet and YoungArts alumnus Kenyon Adams (1999 Winner in Theater). It was a magical night under the stars, filled with music, visuals and spoken word, based on the epic poetic-jazz suite by the African-American literary giant. What was most impressive was the increased diversity of the audience. In partnership with the Opa-locka Community Development Corp., YoungArts bussed in about 20 students who had never been to the Edgewater neighborhood, and hosted a separate Master Class for more than 100 students who visited a day earlier.
Ending the current season will be the fourth Outside the Box on May 8, 2015. YoungArts alumnus, playwright and MacArthur “Genius” Tarell McCraney (1999 Winner in Theater) has reimagined the Shakespeare classic Romeo & Juliet specifically for Miami. This interactive play will unfold on the Plaza in a whirlwind of vignettes and pop-up performances nipped and tucked for the YoungArts campus. Dancers with the enormously talented Miami City Ballet will participate, along with other local dance and theater companies. This will be our biggest Outside the Box production yet – and we promise, there’ll be free cotton candy at this one as well!
By Esther Park-Clemetson, Director of Campus Programming at YoungArts