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February 2016

With 25 percent of its people now employed in the creative economy, Art Basel Miami is testament to Miami’s reinvention as a centre of art and technology.

At the South Florida Economic Summit, organised by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce in mid-January, urban economist Richard Florida told more than 300 business people that what he calls the creative economy is the destiny of the region.

The creative economy includes science and technology, business and finance, education, medicine, media, entertainment, culture, and the arts. In Miami and the rest of South Florida he finds that up to 25 percent of the working population is involved in the creative economy. In San Francisco the number is 40 percent, so Miami has a way to go.


Glamorous and fashionable in the 1920s and 1930s, Miami went downhill in the 1940s when hotels were turned into military bases and the economy turned to preparation for war. By the 1950s the area was poor, shelter to retirees from the North who stayed in rundown hotels and rooming houses. Then came drugs and drug lords and crime as well as racial upheavals in the 1960s and 1970s.

The television series Miami Vice with an attractive pair of black and white detectives who wore designer clothes, drove luxury cars, and raced around Biscayne Bay in speedboats – entertaining beautiful women or chasing criminals – had a lot to do with upgrading the image of Miami. The show ran from 1984-90 and can still be found on some local and cable channels.

Simultaneously, ageing hotels on Miami Beach were being revitalised, their Art Deco facades restored, and some hardy developers were putting up major residential complexes, for example, Grove Isle.

But that wasn’t enough for economic success and, indeed, the worst point came in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew devastated Miami and South Florida. With the help of federal funds, insurance money, and team spirit, the community pulled together and began the renaissance that led to the reinvention of Miami as a centre of art and technology.


Suzanne Delehanty was recruited to come to Miami in 1995 “with the charge of transforming what was then called the Centre of the Fine Arts (CFA) into greater Miami’s flagship art museum.” She found, “both the leaders of Miami-Dade County government and key civic leaders were committed to developing greater Miami’s potential as a global centre in the 21st century. That meant the creation of a major art museum.”

Over 11 years, Delehanty says, “we carried out community-wide planning and transformed the Centre for the Fine Arts, a non-collecting department of our county government, in the Miami Art Museum (MAM), a freestanding collecting museum with a strong commitment to education,” making her the Founding Director of MAM.

At the same time, Delehanty was involved in the groundwork for building the museum’s new home. “We collaborated with the science museum and community members in the transformation of 30 acres of derelict waterfront land in downtown Miami into Museum Park,” she explained, “and secured USD 100 million in Miami-Dade County bond funding” for the new museum to be designed by Herzog & de Meuron. Thanks to a gift from developer and art collector Jorge M. Perez, the renamed Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) opened in late 2013.


Delehanty witnessed the beginnings of what became Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB) in 1996. She found it “exhilarating to be part of the whirlwind visits” of representatives of Art Basel in Switzerland who “sensed the ‘political will’ desiring Miami to become the hub for the Americas in the 21st century.”

Art Basel was interested in expanding beyond one fair in June. They encountered Miami’s diversity – “then and now its greatest strength” – and “found a vibrant community of artists and art collectors as well as museums and other cultural institutions, which had developed over the decades.”

However, it took several more years for Art Basel to arrive. The first ABMB was scheduled in December 2001. However, in the year of 9/11 an unexpected result was that international insurers who guarantee shipping of art works were unwilling to do it. ABMB opened in 2002 and closed its 14th edition in December 2015.

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