But moving is also thrilling – new possibilities, new endeavors, new growth. New friends, a new neighborhood. The memories, history, and knowledge from your old home will, after all, come with you.
In January, as Miami Light Project moved from The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse in Wynwood to the Miami Theater Center (MTC) in Miami Shores, artistic and executive director Beth Boone reflected on leaving their home of 13 years to start a new era in a new place.
“We exceeded my wildest dreams here,” Boone says. “I feel so lucky and filled with joy that we were able to do all that we did. Proud of what we did for so many artists for so long.”
“The passage of time is what takes my breath away. But those stories live on. I’m excited about what lies in front of us, the possibilities we haven’t thought of.”
Creating new possibilities is what artists, and Miami Light Project, do. That’s a crucial skill in this constantly morphing city. Since MLP moved into The Light Box in 2010 (with the first full performance, of Daniel Bernard Roumain’s Symphony on the Dancefloor, in 2011), Wynwood has changed from a neighborhood filled with dazzling street murals and energized by adventurous artists and galleries, to an upscale commercial and tourist district full of restaurants, stores and towering apartment blocks, where art is primarily decorative.
Impelled by the pandemic, Goldman Properties, which owns the building, had already extended MLP’s decade-long lease by two years. Another extension was possible. But the departure of artists and arts organizations, and the increasingly raucous atmosphere, meant Wynwood didn’t feel right anymore. Meanwhile, Boone and MLP staff found their time and energy increasingly eaten up by, essentially, being landlords: managing the longtime partner tenants, such as Arts for Learning or DJ Mr. Pauer, and the event rentals (a Sunday church was a regular) needed to cover costs. Meanwhile, Wynwood’s explosive ongoing development made the building – and MLP’s – future too uncertain for longterm plans.
“It all created the moment where we said ‘let’s move’,” says Boone.
“I love [The Light Box], have always loved it. For me it’s the end of an era,” says Teo Castellanos, board president and theater artist whose creative life has been entwined with MLP. But Castellanos, a Buddhist, understands all eras must end. “We moved into Wynwood knowing someday we’d have to move out, that nothing is permanent,” he says. “It follows the natural progression of things; artists come in, make areas more attractive, and then artists need to move on. We benefited and they benefitted.”
Memories echoed one January morning as Boone, planning and development director Regina Moore, and artist volunteers sorted, discarded, and packed years of archives and supplies. “Look what I found!” Boone, elbows deep in boxes of papers, exclaimed, holding up the original score for Drumin’, Tania Leon’s groundbreaking Afro-Caribbean orchestral work that MLP co-commissioned in 1997, whose Pulitzer Prize winning composer was a 2022 Kennedy Center honoree. “The problem with moving is you keep wanting to stop and go down memory lane,” said Boone, who began working at MLP the week in 1998 it moved into its first home, an office/studio/performance space on Biscayne Blvd. “It’s a slippery slope.”
Choreographer Sandra Portal-Andreu, sorting through years of flyers, was wistful. Since doing Here & Now in 2016, she’d rehearsed here often. “This was definitely a creative haven for me,” she sighed. “There’s no space like The Light Box. But it was here, it lived, and now it moves on. I’m curious to see if the next chapter creates that same community.”
In the black box theater, resident filmmaker Randy Valdes and technical director/facilities manager Eventz Paul had stacked the theater lights, face down, in long, black rows. The songs on the radio seemed ironically appropriate: All Night Long, Another One Bites the Dust, I’m Still Standing.
“This was our space,” said Paul, who started with MLP’s Technical Fellows Program (which will continue at MTC) and became the backbone of The Light Box. “We could be here anytime, for anything. But we’re going to make the next one our own space.”
But along with nostalgia and acceptance, there’s also anticipation.
“There is this sadness, for sure,” says dancer/choreographer Cecilia Benitez, 25, who was drawn back to her hometown in 2021 by the community and opportunity she found at Miami Light Project; and, with fellow Miami returnee Stephanie Perez, earned a spot on the 2022 Here & Now festival. During a last rehearsal at The Light Box, Benitez went round kissing walls goodbye. “I know I’m gonna miss it,” she says. “But I’m excited to move on to a new chapter. I get to be at the beginning of something new; we get to give it new life, new creative energy. We’re going to make new memories, of growing, changing and expanding. We’re gonna bring life to a new community, because art always brings life.”
MLP has an enthusiastic new partner in their new life at the Miami Theater Center. Artistic director Victoria Row-Traster has been planning the move with Boone – who’s become president of MTC’s board – for several years. The change coincides with an energized new MTC board, and the group’s post-pandemic return to live performances and rebuilding audiences. Row-Traster says Miami Light Project’s adventurous contemporary performances and commissioning of new work will complement MTC’s family and children’s theater, while MLP’s decades-deep audience and artist community will broaden MTC’s profile as a cultural center. (Row-Traster is also working on bringing in two more artistic organizations to share the Art Deco era theater.)
“I’m thrilled to have Beth as an arts partner,” Row-Traster says. “Miami Light Project is activating the space, bringing in new life and new people. Her programming will bring something new and fresh to Miami Theater Center.”
Located on NE Second Avenue in the middle of Miami Shores still-quiet downtown, MTC is a skip away from neighborhoods like Little Haiti, North Miami, and Biscayne Park, while remaining easily accessible from most of Miami-Dade. Parking is free and plentiful; traffic, by Miami standards, non-existent.
“There’s a huge diverse population nearby that doesn’t necessarily have children but wants to access the arts,” Row-Traster says. “People want to do more things in their own communities; they don’t always want to fight traffic and stress to go to the Beach or Wynwood.”
MTC is only 15 years into a 99-year lease, offering a rare stability. And Miami Shores officials are very pleased to have another arts group join their community; Mayor Sandra Harris says she is “elated” Miami Light Project is moving in.
“Having previously experienced many MLP performances, I understood the significance of having this organization move to our community,” Harris said in an email. “This is not only a win for MTC, it is a major addition to the Miami Shores community, and will do much to reinvigorate our downtown. Our elected officials and administration are very excited and supportive.”
That Harris’s son is a performer and director with cutting edge groups in New York has given Harris a deeper respect for the work that Miami Light Project does.
“Having my son in the performance art space has expanded my appreciation for different forms of art and I’ve seen firsthand the struggle, grit, and determination it takes to remain in the business,” Harris wrote. “I have also gained a greater appreciation for organizations like the MLP.”
Miami Light Project hasn’t paused. Liony Garcia (who came through Here & Now) premiered the final version of his Corporeal Decorum , the fruit of a major, years-long commissioning project, on the MTC stage last April. The final live show in Wynwood was Castellanos’s F/Punk Junkies, in early October. Carla Forte’s multimedia Bird Woman premieres Feb 24-25 at MTC. (Forte and partner Alexey Taran are also Here & Now grads and longtime MLP resident artists.) Like Brooklyn-based Shamel Pitts’ Touch of Red, the stunning dance work performed at MTC in November, which MLP co-commissioned with YoungArts, Forte’s piece will bring the audience onstage with the artists to re-create the intimate, in-the-round experience of the black box theater in Wynwood.
Keeping a close interaction between performance and audience is key, says Boone. “I think what everyone loved was the intimacy of The Light Box, the way we found to blur the lines between observation and the experience and performance of work,” says Boone. “We proved with Shamel’s piece that we could re-capture that lightning in a bottle in a new location.”
MLP continues its long partnership with FUNDarte, co-presenting the Global Cuba Fest in early March; this year’s edition includes Latin Grammy and Grammy winning singer-songwriter Alex Cuba at the North Beach Bandshell and the return of Cuban DJ/producer EdgarO’s old school Cuban vinyl session at Dante’s HiFi; as well as presenting performance artist Migguel Angelo on FUNDarte’s Out in the Tropics in April.
Miami Light Project is also expanding its community partnerships with a major new event, joining with Community Arts and Culture and the Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department to produce A Great Day at Oak Grove Park, a day-long musical celebration of culture and community in North Dade’s Oak Grove Park on Feb. 18, with Haitian and Latin Caribbean artists including local legends Spam Allstars, Jude Papaloko, Cortadito, and Inez Barlatier.
The studio/small performance space in a former retail store next to the MTC theater has been re-branded “The Light Box at MTC.” Lightened and brightened with white paint, the one-of-a-kind light fixtures that once floated in the Wynwood space in new flight overhead, the new Light Box will continue to offer free rehearsal space for artists working with MLP, whether the latest group creating pieces for the Here & Now festival in May, or national and local artists-in-residence working on long term projects. (Another rehearsal resource will be dance artist Heather Maloney and partner Corey Silverman’s new space in Little Haiti, who, in return for getting the lighting grid and one of the sprung wood dancefloors from Wynwood, will make space available to MLP artists.)
The Wynwood building enabled Miami Light Project to fully embrace its current identity: as, not simply a presenter and commissioner, but as a home for artists, a place to expand and strengthen community, a critical, shared resource for culture in Miami.
Boone is determined to maintain that mission at MTC, starting with the essential gift of free space for artists to work. “Money is great – we need it,” says Boone. “But having repeated time in a place is priceless.”
Los Angeles-based artist Dan Froot, who’s returned repeatedly to Miami Light Project for years, working intensively with community groups on PANG!, a multimedia theater/radio piece on hunger, presented in Wynwood in 2016; and since then on Arms Around America, on gun violence, which will be performed in the fall of 2024.
“My work wouldn’t happen without this multi-year support, which is very rare,” says Froot. “It is made possible by Beth and the organization’s commitment and understanding that there has to be consistent, sensitive relationship building that only happens over time.”
The wall of windows in the front of the new Miami Shores Light Box, long blocked by shades and blackout film, have been uncovered, offering passersby a glimpse of the creatives in their midst. It’s a simple but captivating connection pioneered by Miami City Ballet in its original studios in a former department store on Lincoln Road.
“Now artists are able to be in a space that has a literal and figurative relationship to the world walking by,” says Boone. “The potential for interaction is greater.”
In the works for The Light Box at MTC are monthly conversations between artists and the community, as well as open, artist-taught classes in yoga and Pilates. The space will host screenings (as with the latest ScreenDance Miami festival), workshops, in-process showings, and parties and receptions – a multipurpose space for creating and sharing. And MLP now has a small but inviting office, filled with artwork and furniture from Wynwood, off the MTC theater lobby.
The issues surrounding Miami Light Project’s move are echoed around Miami (and the country), as gentrification accelerates and rents and property values soar. Increasingly, the arts organizations that seem best positioned to thrive are those that own their own property, like the Bakehouse, or Oolite Arts, whose sale of one of its Lincoln Road buildings is enabling it to build an expansive campus in Little River. Both institutions started in the 80’s, when buying property in a neglected area was possible for a non-profit – something that seems near-impossible now. The next best alternative may be a stable, government supported home – like Miami New Drama at the Miami Beach owned Colony Theater, or Zoetic Stage at the Adrienne Arsht Center. Or Miami Light Project at the Miami Theater Center with its 99-year lease.
Benji Power, an urban planner on MLP’s board, thinks government leaders and policy should do much more to support a cultural ecosystem, and to press developers and commercial entities to incorporate arts groups in their plans. But he also thinks Miami’s hyped-up international real estate market and political character make that unlikely – or at least extremely challenging.
“City politicians could incentivize this and they’re far from doing that,” Power says. “[Developers] could put more money where their mouth is, not just have wonderful art on the walls. Where does the artist live, where is their studio, where do they perform?”
Meanwhile artists, as usual, come up with their own solutions. Filmmaker Rhonda Mitrani and her sister Dina ran galleries showcasing photography, film and video art in the heart of Wynwood starting in 2007, while also offering cheap studios to artists. They were able to do this because their family owned the building, a former clothing factory and wholesaler. But as the arts community left, the neighborhood gentrified, and property taxes soared, the family sold the property in 2016. (It’s currently a mostly empty lot.) The Mitrani sisters bought another building in Little River, where they plan to have a gallery, library, screening room, podcast production studio, and café.
“I had a very difficult time accepting we had to move,” Rhonda Mitrani says. “But the neighborhood changed around us; everybody left, all the galleries. It was a very sad time for me. All these large investment companies coming in to buy and flip. Wynwood was gentrifying and we knew we had to go.”
Mitrani, who’s on MLP’s board, has accepted that the change, and the search for new ways to cultivate artists and community, are essential.
“We have to plant seeds and nurture what we’re building again,” she says. “With the city evolving, we have to remember what our identity is and keep moving forward.”
Moving forward might include the kind of profound re-thinking that artists are good at. One idea, Boone suggests, would be for artists and cultural institutions to share in the financial equity that results from the way they make a neighborhood – and a city and a community – a richer, more connected, better place to live.
It’s an exhilarating thought – and one that raises the possibility of undiscovered solutions to what can seem like an intractable conundrum. But to find them, artists and arts organizations need places and opportunities to keep inventing new ways to imagine the world. Which Miami Light Project will keep providing.
“The power of saying yes to people is astonishing in the way it returns exponentially,” says Boone. “What happens when you give creatives time and space? It changes the whole wide world.”
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.
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.