The Adrienne Arsht Center celebrates 10 years as Miami's cultural hub

October 5, 2016
On its tenth anniversary, the Arsht Center continues its mission to be at the forefront of Miami's cultural development.

When the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts opened in downtown Miami 10 years ago, it was the first of its kind in the city. Before then, Miami was a town of barn-like auditoriums and intimate, scrappy theatres, such as the Coconut Grove Playhouse, which closed the same year the Arsht opened. With the addition of the arts complex, a $472 million project decades in the making, Miami could now lure major productions to town and highlight artists working in the community as well.

Now the Arsht is celebrating its tenth anniversary with 10 hours of performances and activities on Saturday, reflecting its goal for the next decade: to become more welcoming to the mélange of the South Florida community and its artists.

The anniversary celebration will kick off with performances by local artists including the Miami Children's Chorus, Taiko drumming group Fushu Daiko, house music duo Afrobeta, the Guitars over Guns music mentorship program and Bahamas Junkanoo dancers.

Guests can grab a bite to eat from concessions, food trucks, a farmers market and barbecue stands.

At 7:30 p.m., singer and producer CeeLo Green will perform with local funk fusion band Spam Allstars and Afro-Cuban music group Tiempo Libre. Following this concert there will be a free party outdoors on the Parker and Vann Thomson Plaza for the Arts that connects the Ziff Ballet Opera House and Knight Concert Hall.

Erica Lynn Schwartz is the senior director of programming for the center, and works with a team to scout artists and bring them to the Arsht. She came onboard a year ago after working in Broadway and off-Broadway, a change she said inspires and challenges her.

Schwartz traveled with many Broadway tours, so living in the same place as her audience for an extended period of time has allowed her to tailor programming to better suit the interests of the Miami community, she said.  

The common ground between all audiences though, is the effect of a memorable evening. This is what Schwartz said the Arsht strives to create.

"You learn that, through art, you can really have a lasting impact on people, even if that impact is just to entertain people for two hours of the day," she said.

Theater critic Christine Dolen has reviewed hundreds of performances during her nearly 40-year career. Yet she still remembers the first show she watched at the Arsht back in 2006, "The Light in the Piazza." Adam Guettel's musical tells the story of a Southern woman and her developmentally stunted daughter, Clara, who go to Italy for a summer, where Clara falls in love.

"It was gorgeous, and I thought it was a wonderful way to open the center," Dolen said. "It was a wonderful way to christen the space."

Dolen was working for the Miami Herald when she heard about plans for the Arsht and was excited to have a performing arts center in Miami, especially one just steps from the Herald's longtime former building on Biscayne Bay. The center created a space for more art in Miami-Dade, a space other counties, such as Broward, already had.

Since then, a wide range of artists, from local dance groups to Broadway tours and nearly everything in between, has passed through the center. As Miami became more culturally diverse over the past several decades, so did the artistic scene. Dolen said the symbiotic relationship between the two has enriched the city as a whole.

"The theater scene today from when I started is infinitely more varied and wonderful and strong," she said.

Among her favorite performances have been Christopher Demos Brown's play "Fear Up Harsh" and The House Theater of Chicago's "Death and Harry Houdini." But Dolen enjoys the experience at the Arsht every time she is there.

"It's such a nexus for culture in Miami that every time I go there, even if it's just to review a Broadway show I've seen many times before, I still feel the excitement and anticipation," she said.

For the Arsht's eleventh season, Schwartz said the focus is on taking genres which are traditionally on opposite sides of the artistic spectrum -- a hip hop crew and a classical orchestra, for example -- and merge them to create dynamic, boundary-blurring performances.

"Where do we find that confluence and where can we cross genres to bring different audiences together?" Schwartz said.

Another goal, she said, is for the Arsht to become a "campus" downtown, a place Miamians can integrate into daily life, not just when they get dressed up for a night at the opera.

Schwartz also hopes to create a 500 to 1,000-seat theater somewhere on the campus to accommodate acts like comedians or mid-level bands, which can't fill the Ziff Ballet Opera House or the Knight Concert Hall, but are too big for the small Carnival Studio Theater.

Schwartz said the next decade of the Arsht Center will be marked by unexpected performances curated to bring different corners of the city together for a shared experience.

"I know we're doing our job right when you can see hip hop one day, a comedian the next day, Miami City Ballet the next," she said. "We're really trying to make it diverse and exciting for everyone to come and participate."