Food for Thought: Miami Light Project
By David Large
Founded in 1989, the Miami Light Project is a nonprofit cultural organization that presents live performances by innovative dance, music and theater artists from around the world, supports the development of new work by South Florida-based artists, and offers educational programs in the community and Miami-Dade County high schools. Its goal to educate the next generation of arts audiences and increase local youth’s capacity for creative process, critical thinking and resilience.
Since its inception, the MLP, a Rex grantee in 2007, has reached a diverse cross-section of communities throughout Miami-Dade County. Its outreach efforts include partnerships with other arts organizations, universities and social service agencies. It has become a cultural forum for exploring many of the issues that define our contemporary society.
The MLP brings to its programs artists who are internationally recognized for risk-taking innovation, technical virtuosity and thought-provoking content. It’s recently expanded its community outreach programs to bring contemporary performance and artist residencies to a broad cross section of Miami’s neighborhoods.
Recently Rex had a chance to discuss MLP’s current programs and future plans with Beth Boone, MLP’s Artistic and Executive Director.
Rex: Please give us a brief sketch of your different arts programs!
Beth Boone, Miami Light Project: We focus our programs in three distinctive groups: On Stage, Behind the Scenes, and Community Programming.
On Stage includes our Contemporary Performance Series, through which we present nationally and internationally acclaimed artists, usually in their Florida debut presentation, on stages throughout Miami-Dade County; Global Cuba Fest, an internationally recognized presentation of the best musicians of the Cuban Diaspora; and Here & Now, our signature commissioning and presenting program for South Florida artists.
Behind the Scenes includes Miami/ Project Hip Hop, a celebration of work of, by and for the Hip Hop generation. It includes panel discussions, workshops, and presentations of music, theater, dance, film, and spoken word in venues throughout Miami, and Here & Now on Tour. Since 2002 over 30 Here & Now artists have performed their work in 14 states and 15 countries for an estimated audience of 20,000 people worldwide.
Rex: What drove the founding of the MLP 21 years ago?
MLP: Back in the late ’80s, Miami was just in the early stages of new cultural development. MLP was created by two New York City transplants, Caren Rabbino and Janine Gross, who were looking for the diverse, contemporary artistic offerings that were in abundance in places like NYC. It was the right idea at the right time, because the community was clearly ready for new and more experimental cultural offerings; MLP quickly established a local following and a national reputation.
Rex: Your goals obviously extend well beyond simply producing public performances.Can you elaborate on how your programs and performances nurture the Miami-Dade County arts and youth communities? How does the more commercial side of presenting public performances support the organization’s goals?
MLP: I’ll take this moment to talk a bit about our latest and most ambitious and exciting project to date, The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse.
This project involves the development of a multi-use performance space in the burgeoning Wynwood arts district, a formerly blighted light industrial neighborhood in the heart of Miami. The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse includes a studio performance space, galleries, rehearsal space, and shared offices for five small and mid sized cultural organizations.
The idea for the space comes directly from my 12 years as director of MLP, building programs for artists and the community, listening to the needs of each, and learning from the field that we must change our business model and reinvent how we collaborate as a community of cultural workers if we are to sustain our work over the long term.
With the development of The Light Box, we are poised to entirely transform the surrounding community by focusing our resources in a shared space and providing a home for innovative artists — from Miami and beyond — to create their best work. This is what artists need, and it is what our community needs, and it is in response to what the field at large needs — shared resources and places to make and see new work.
Rex: Tell us about the highlights of your upcoming seasons and what you’re excited about seeing happen as you move forward.
MLP: Moving into our new space is truly the highlight of our season. In addition to continuing to offer incredible performances throughout Miami, the opportunity to step up as leaders in the community, and in the field as well, is (re)invigorating.
Rex:What issues or challenges do you deal with in carrying out your programs, and what is your approach to addressing them?
MLP: Securing and sustaining the financial resources required to do our work is our most challenging task. It always has been, but it’s fair to say that in the current economic climate, the arts sadly don’t take high priority in the government, corporate and private sector budgets.
Over the last five years we have experienced almost a 40% reduction in both contributed and earned income in our local community. And this is despite efforts to creatively seek new funds and tell the story of the importance of our work for the community at large, and for our nation.
That said, most of us who work in the field of art and culture do so because we must, because we are true believers and passionate about the arts. I do it because I believe that society is made better by the contributions of bold, often fearless artists, who bare their souls and make us think and reflect and act in ways that make the world a better place to live. Because of these beliefs, we remain motivated to do our best work.
Rex: What do you see as the role of the performing arts in educating young people and in the health of our communities in general? How do the MLP’s programs align with that view?
MLP: We know that experiencing and participating in the arts is beneficial to all young people; that it improves their academic success, fosters cooperation, encourages creative thought and helps them to find a creative outlet for the frustrations of daily life. With many schools facing budget cuts, resulting in limitations to, or elimination of, their arts programs, MLP’s outreach activities offer an opportunity for arts education that would otherwise not exist.
MLP introduces young people to the performing arts though direct interaction with contemporary performing artists, and live performance in major venues in Miami-Dade County. Contemporary performance is frequently a vernacular that appeals to young people, and provides a meaningful introduction to the performing arts. Through hands-on artistic training, art-making activities, and the distribution of free tickets and transportation to performances, MLP has a proven track record of providing high quality cultural programs to a diverse cross-section of Miami-Dade residents.
Rex: What else would you want people reading this to know about MLP’s work?
MLP: For me, the last sentence of our mission statement says it all: “Miami Light Project is a cultural forum to explore the issues that define contemporary society.” Our work is exciting, provocative and creative, and it happens live and on stage, and in the presence of others. Go see live performance!