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Miami Light Project Marks a Year Filled With Commissions for New Artist Projects

December 22, 2021

By Jordan Levin

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Enabling artists to make new work has always been at the heart of Miami Light Project’s mission. But in recent months, a cascade of artists and projects fostered by Miami Light Project have received major grants and recognition, the latest result of an incredibly fertile period in which MLP has initiated seven new evening-length works by Miami-based artists, with four National Performance Network commissions, and five projects supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Sol Ruiz's "Positive Vibration Nation" at Here & Now 2021. Photo by Elvis Suarez.
Sol Ruiz's "Positive Vibration Nation" at Here & Now 2021. Photo by Elvis Suarez.

These include Cuban roots/electro funk musician Sol Ruiz (who blew away audiences in November’s Here & Now festival), for whom MLP has just received a Knight Arts Challenge grant to create her first opera; choreographer Liony Garcia’s full-length Corporeal Decorum, which premieres at the Light Box in April 2022; and dancemaker/filmmaker Maya Billig’s Gate Closes at 3:05, premiering in February. MLP’s latest commission from theater artist Teo Castellanos, F/Punk Junkies, has received over $215,000 in grants from the Knight Foundation and the New England Foundation for the Arts. And there’s much more.

This creative boom is testimony to the growing role that Miami Light Project is playing in transforming artist’s careers and Miami’s creative community. Our commissions and residencies take place behind the scenes, often over a period of years. But they keep every corner of The Light Box buzzing from morning through evening. Many of the benefits of this work are cumulative, building networks and relationships with every grant, workshop, and friendship born from a chance encounter or revelatory showcase. Increasingly, MLP is focusing less on presenting work by artists from outside South Florida and more on investing in Miami artists and the community here, a shift that has grown during their 16 years at the Light Box in Wynwood.

Maya Billig's "Gate Closes at 3:05"
Maya Billig's "Gate Closes at 3:05"

More than ever, executive director Beth Boone is taking the Emily’s List motto “early money is like yeast” as Miami Light Project’s credo – with the latest round of support bringing these Miami artists to new heights the proof.

“I have been able to see the impact on artists’ lives and the artist community when you invest money, whether it’s $200 or $200,000,” Boone says. “The reward is enormous.” While MLP still thrills at presenting powerful artists new to Miami (like co-commissioning boundary-breaking, internationally acclaimed dance theater artists Shamel Pitts and Nora Chipaumire), Boone has become most dedicated to seeding local creativity. “I’ve grown to lean into the kind of impact we can have as a cultural organization by investing most of our money into artists in our own community,” she says.

“A modest amount of money invested in artists and sustained over time – along with other support… over the course of years you’ve helped to build an artist’s career and an artist’s community,” says Boone.

This also means connecting artists to professional support, local and national networks of funders and presenters; sharing knowledge; creative, rehearsal and technical time at the Light Box; and introducing them to people (as Boone did with former DiverseWorks director Loris Bradley, now working with Miami dance artist Pioneer Winter as he works towards a national tour of his gorgeous Birds of Paradise.) All these connections expand the interlocking web that helps artists, and the artist community, grow and thrive.

Pioneer Winter's "Reprise." Photo by Katherine Richardson.
Pioneer Winter's "Reprise." Photo by Katherine Richardson.

Here are the powerful projects and artists Miami Light Project is supporting:

Sol Ruiz

Singer/songwriter/musician Sol Ruiz’s Cuban/funk/electro band Sol and The Tribu, a longtime Miami favorite, played MLP and FUNDarte’s annual Global Cuba Fest in March 2020 – just before the world shut down. But during quarantine Boone urged Ruiz to apply for the 2021 Here & Now festival, and Ruiz’s “multimedia music theater rock guaguanco opera” Positive Vibration Nation was accepted. (The eight 2021 H&N artists received $5,000 each, the largest award ever for Here & Now.) Ruiz’s work-in-progress showing of her piece so wowed the MLP team that they immediately applied for a 2021 Knight Arts Challenge grant – and were awarded $59,000 to develop Positive Vibration Nation into a contemporary opera, opening up a whole new creative track for Ruiz. The piece is slated to premiere in January of 2024.

Liony Garcia

Like so many artists who’ve created major works with MLP, dancer/choreographer Liony Garcia began Corporeal Decorum as a short piece on the Here & Now festival, in 2019. A visually and physically lyrical meditation on Art Deco architecture and cultural memory, Corporeal Decorum was so striking that MLP expanded their support, making Garcia an artist-in-residence at the Light Box, and procured the piece a National Performance Network 2020 Creation Fund Grant and a 2021 NPN Development Fund Grant. (Garcia also presented CP at the Wolfsonian Museum.) MLP’s relationship with former Miami artist Elizabeth Doud, the Currie-Kohlmann Curator of Performance at Sarasota’s Ringling Museum, led to the Ringling co-commissioning Garcia’s dance and awarding him a technical residency in 2020. The final version of Corporeal Decorum premieres at the Light Box in April 2022.

Teo Castellanos

No one better exemplifies the success – and importance – of Miami Light Project’s investment in local artists than Teo Castellanos, whose first evening-length theater piece, NE Second Avenue, in 2002, was MLP’s first major commission of a Miami artist and launched a major career in theater, film, and mentoring countless Black and Brown Miami students and artists (including Tarell Alvin McCraney and Rudi Goblen, another MLP favorite who’s finding national success.) Castellanos became a close advisor and friend to MLP, which has commissioned almost every piece he’s made since. Including his latest, F/Punk Junkies, which premieres in October 2022 and draws on alternative 80’s music, Afro-Futurism, Black punk bands, Caribbean folklore, and Santeria and uses a powerhouse ensemble of Black and Latina women. Through Miami Light Project, F/Punk Junkies received a 2019 Knight New Work grant for $115,000 (spread over three years), and prestigious New England Foundation for the Arts National Theater Project production and development grants of $100,500. Castellanos brings F/Punk Junkies to fruition as the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation named him a Doris Duke Artist in 2021, a $275,000 award that is one of the largest and most prestigious given to an individual artist – a richly deserved recognition of Castellanos’s lifetime of creativity and giving back.

Maya Billig

Another artist showcased on Here & Now (2020 pandemic edition), choreographer/filmmaker Maya Billig’s Gate Closes at 3:05 was commissioned by Miami Light Project. Then Billig became one of just 18 artists to receive a 2020 Knight New Work award for the dance-theater piece which sets surreal narratives and a speakeasy-inspired dreamscape to Miami house and dance music. MLP presents the premiere of Gate Closes at 3:05 in February 2022.

Natasha Tsakos

Miami Light Project is one of three original co-commissioners of the brilliantly genre-busting multimedia/theater artist Natasha Tsakos’s Caraboom! – another 2020 Knight New Work winner. The immersive extravaganza, which will be staged in a Biscayne Blvd parking lot in March 2022, is presented by Live Arts Miami. But MLP was crucial to Tsakos’s early development, presenting her work on the 2004, 2005 and 2006 – yes, again – Here & Now festivals, culminating in her first evening-length piece, 2007’s UpWake, and leading to an international career that’s ranged from TED talks and the United Nations to a mind-boggling array of projects blending fantasy, technology, media and liberating performance.

Pioneer Winter

Read all about the amazing Pioneer Winter “Embracing Everyone, Expanding Everything” elsewhere on our website. In the wake of Winter’s transfixing Birds of Paradise, slated to tour nationally in 2022-23, Miami Light Project has commissioned Winter’s next piece, DJ Apollo, which imagines the Greek god DJing in Hades and wondering what happened.

Carla Forte

Miami Light Project’s history with marvelously adventurous Venezuelan dance, improv and film artist Carla Forte (and her life and creative partner Alexey Taran) goes back over a decade to the couple’s first Here & Now commission, extends through multiple ScreenDance festivals, and reached a new level during the pandemic lockdown in 2020, as MLP made Carla and Alexey part of their Artists in Residence (AIR) program (funded by the Knight Foundation, Ford Foundation, and the Jorge Perez Family Foundation) while presenting their 305 and Havana International Improv Festival. We’re thrilled to commission Carla’s next major work, Bird Woman, which we’ll present in the 2022-23 season.

Shamel Pitts/TRIBE

Much as MLP loves our local artists, we also love brilliant creators like Brooklyn-based dance maker and Guggenheim Fellow Shamel Pitts and his innovative multidisciplinary collective TRIBE. Miami Light Project joined with Miami-based YoungArts (where Pitts was a finalist in 2003) to get an NPN Creation Fund grant to commission Pitts and TRIBE’s next project, Touch of Red. The two groups brought Pitts and TRIBE members for a two-week technical residency at the Light Box earlier this year. MLP will proudly join leading presenters across the country to present Touch of Red at the Light Box in November 2022.

EdgarO

The latest of the many Cuban musical artists that Miami Light Project has welcomed is Cuban hiphop pioneer EdgarO, part of the island’s original hiphop movement in Alomar, Havana’s version of the boogie down Bronx. EdgarO was in residence at the Light Box last summer working on an album, Fundamento, a tribute to Cuban rhythms he grew up with and the island’s early hiphop, working with national figures like Pedro Martinez and Miami-based Cuban musicians. EdgarO continues his residency in March 2022, when he’ll also be part of Global Cuba Fest, the annual festival of music from the Cuban diaspora that we present with FUNDarte, where Miami has gotten its first listen to the likes of stunning vocalist Dayme Arocena and blazing funk star Cimafunk.

Migguel Anggelo

MLP will bring this fabulous gender-shattering music/cabaret artist (who links Desi Arnaz and Klaus Nomi) for a December 2021 residency, as he prepares to remount his Latin XOXO (a hit at Joe’s Pub) for New York’s Under the Radar Festival.

Timur Bekbosunov and the Dime Museum

MLP has co-commissioned (with L.A.’s Beth Morrison Projects) audacious Kazakh-American alt-glam-rock opera artist Timur Bekbosunov’s Great Soviet Bucket, inspired by Soviet propaganda songs from his childhood – and the fervor of Argentine folkloric godmother Mercedes Sosa’s Nueva Cancion. Premiering during the 2022-23 season.

Dan Froot

L.A.-based theater group Dan Froot & Co. will be an MLP artist-in-residence for Arms Around America, oral histories of families affected by gun violence in South Florida, Montana and Los Angeles, that Froot and company will turn into a book, podcast and a theater piece MLP will present in the 2023-24 season. The project grew out of Froot’s PANG!, on families suffering from hunger, with MLP bringing the group for a residency and presenting the piece in 2018. Miami’s own Guitars Over Guns, which uses music and mentorship to empower children, as well as March For Our Lives, the campaign that sprang out of the Parkland massacre, are also part of Arms Around America.

Is there more? There is! Miami Light Project is supporting new projects by Miami’s own dance theater maker Rosie Herrera; the fiercely incandescent Nora Chipaumire, whom we’ve co-presented and hosted in residencies multiple times; and revolutionary hiphop choreographer Rennie Harris. Meanwhile, find out more about Miami Light Project artists, artists-in-residence, and the many ways we work to enrich Miami’s creative community on the Stories page on our website.

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Kristina Villaverde Portrait

Kristina Villaverde

Special Projects Manager

A native of Miami, Kristina Villaverde became Miami Light Project’s Technical Director in 2014. Kristina is also the director of Miami Light Project’s Technical Fellowship, a program designed to train emerging theater technicians and prepares them for professional work. A long time staple in the South Florida theater community, Kristina has worked as the Head Electrician at Byron Carlyle Theater, The Colony Theater and the Olympia Theater. Additionally, she has built her theater skills as Light Designer and Stage Manager for numerous productions, and worked for local arts organizations as Young Arts and Miami Lyric Opera. Kristina has been a member of I.A.T.S.E. Local 500 and had the opportunity to work as a stagehand for a variety of productions from Broadway, Comedy Central, CBS, Telemundo to Live Nation at a great number of venues in South Florida.
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Terrence Brunn

Marketing & Communications Manager

A native of St. Thomas, US Virgin Island, Terrence Brunn is an arts administrator and designer with a B.A. in Business Management from the University of Miami. Terrence Brunn joined MLP in 2012 as part of the Miami Light Project’s Technical Fellowship Program inaugural class where he explored all aspects of stagecraft. Now Terrence is the communications manager for Miami Light Project and the program coordinator for Miami Theater Center. Terrence currently resides in Miami and enjoys traveling when not working.
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Regina Moore

Director of Planning & Development

Regina Moore joined Miami Light Project in October 2012. Previously, Regina worked as an independent consultant and grant writer for nonprofits in South Florida. Since 2003, Regina has worked with cultural & arts and community services organizations on projects that have generated more than $4 million in grants. She has 18 years of experience in grant proposal development, strategic planning, building collaborations and program evaluation for small/mid-size nonprofits. Regina holds a master degree in business administration from the University of Miami (Coral Gables, FL) and bachelor’s degree in business from Pontificia Universidade Católica (Sao Paulo, Brazil). A native of Brazil, Regina currently resides in Boca Raton with her husband, John, and two children, Thomas and Emilie.
Eventz Headshot

Eventz Paul

Technical Director & Facilities Manager

Eventz Paul is currently the Technical Director and Productions Manager at Miami Light Project. He has been a part of this organization since 2011. He participated in Miami Light Project’s first class of the Technical Fellowship Program held at The Light Box. He joined this program hoping to improve his existing theater skills. He received training from experts in the industry that mentored and further his theater technical skills. Now, he has successfully used his professional knowledge and has had the opportunity to work with various arts organizations and venues throughout Miami including Miami Theater Center, National Young Arts Foundation, the Colony Theatre and many more. He has become an instructor and conducts audiovisual classes to incoming technical fellows.

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Elizabeth Boone

Artistic & Executive Director

Beth Boone has been the Artistic & Executive Director of Miami Light Project since 1998, developing critically acclaimed artistic programs that have asserted the organization as one of the leading cultural institutions in South Florida. These programs include: the establishment of Here & Now, South Florida’s most respected commission and presenting program for community-based artists; premiere presentations of internationally acclaimed; pioneering historic international cultural exchange with Cuba; and the creation of The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, a multi-use performance and visual art space in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District. She previously served as Associate Director of Development for Florida Grand Opera, Deputy Director for the Department of Cultural Affairs at Miami Dade Community College, Wolfson Campus, co-founded an Off Broadway theater company (New York Rep), and served for six years as a Program Associate in the Arts & Culture Program of the AT&T Foundation. She received a B.A. in Fine Arts from the College of Charleston in South Carolina, and a MFA in Theater Arts from Brandeis University in Boston, MA.