Just as Creole culture unites people as much as it defines them, crossing racial boundaries and connecting them to traditions and a place, not a race, the same could be said of art.
The Perez Art Museum (PAMM) in Miami attracts a quarter of a million visitors each year. It prides itself on being just as relevant and engaging for its local community, as it is for tourist visitors to the area.
According to Adrienne Chadwick, Deputy Director of Education at PAMM, this means collecting, curating and exhibiting a highly varied range of pieces, drawn from all aspects of life, across the globe. Then, the team at the museum (with support from benefactors) creates programmes that stimulate dialogue and interaction.
The Museum has a seasonal bias in its theming, according to Adrienne. In the winter it especially caters more for “snow birds” and in the summer puts the spotlight on stimulating interest from residents.
She said: “We call it the Miami Lens, looking at art from whoever our constituents are, and whoever our audience and community is made up of at any time. Which right now happens to be Latin American, Caribbean, and African.”
What an art museum aims to achieve
Beyond its well-planned theming, the heart of the Museum’s success is the care it takes over its permanent exhibits and collections.
Adrienne helpfully explained the difference between an art museum and an art gallery.
“A museum, at least in the United States, is usually a space to collect and preserve artwork or artefacts for the history of that location. And a gallery, an art contemporary or a commercial art gallery, or an auction house is where you sell the work.”
In the case of the PAMM, “We purchase work, or we get work donated.” It only accepts certain pieces though. “There’s a specific curatorial vision and it’s a commitment that the museum makes to take on a work of art because the museum is then responsible for that work of art for the rest of eternity.”
She clarified this duty of care: “To protect the artwork, to handle the artwork, to store the artwork, to insure the artwork, to research and write about the artwork, and to bring it into the public eye on a rotating basis.”
A strong sense of identity
Adrienne admits that PAMM – which has enjoyed various titles and homes over its history – did not always have such clarity of purpose.
Adrienne explained: “Next year we’re going to be celebrating our 35th year anniversary. Over the last 34 to 35 years, the museum has transitioned names and locations and buildings.
“We were first The Centre for Fine Arts in Miami in 1983, and then became in 1996 a collecting institution instead of just a space to bring exhibitions. We changed the name to the Miami Art Museum. At that time the board would donate artwork that they had from their own personal collections, and there wasn’t necessarily an identity and a collection strategy. We were just taking whatever.
“Since then, when they decided to build this building which we opened in December of 2013, we realised that we needed to reinvent our identity.”
Adrienne added: “It has developed this identity with all of the new contemporary art museums in our area that have been around and that have opened, such as the Bass Museum of Art, the Wolfsonian, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami, the Frost Art Museum.”
Equality of experience
The PAMM’s forte now is in embracing a strategic collection of items reflecting inspiration and ideas from its locality and world vision. The museum is known for its inclusive nature, and also the way it offers equality of experience.
Adrienne said: “We’re one of the largest or the largest art museum. We have to reach the most people. We cannot be narrow minded and just really focus on the European or New York model of an art museum. We have to be this museum that focuses on our audience.
“Miami’s a city that’s a minority majority. We have over 70% Latin American constituents here in our county, so we’re a bilingual museum. All of our wall tags are in English and Spanish. We do a Spanish language tour every Saturday at 2:00, because we need to relate to our population.”
Uniquely placed for cultural awareness
Adrienne who has been in post for around two years is herself a trained artist, but she also brought other relevance to her role as Deputy Director.
“Although I’m from Toronto, Canada, I’ve lived in Miami for most of my life. My mom is from Belize, Central America, and my dad is Canadian.”
Adrienne’s fascination with South Florida is therefore matched by her empathy with the way in which Creole culture – and the world of art – can be a melting point of influences from around the globe.
She also pointed out that PAMM works hard to avoid the elitism that art museums once suffered from.
The inclusive nature of PAMM is seen in terms of the age of visitors too.
It has dynamic engagement programmes for school groups, as you might expect, but also for adults too.
“Our education department is made up of about 35 team members. We have our education department split into two sections, youth and family programmes and also adult programmes.
“The youth programme side of it is a little bit bigger. That’s because seven years ago the museum received an endowment grant from the Knight Foundation for 10 million dollars. That was intended to provide all of the Kindergarten through 12th grade students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools with free admission and free transportation to PAMM for the rest of eternity.”
This provides students with opportunities not just to look and listen. They get actively involved in the work of the museum and its artists. This includes using practising local artists as tour guides and providing art workshops.
“We use the inquiry method of touring, where instead of talking at the students, we’re engaging them by asking them questions.”
She added: “They also all get a pass to come back to the museum for two adults and four children, so that’s great too.”
There are also after-school sessions for young people, to engage them in the work of PAMM.
For families, the museum has a special day of activities every second Saturday of every month. Adrienne said: “It’s free admission for the day for anyone who comes. We also have a large activity area outside on the terrace with about 30 six-foot tables and lots and lots of chairs and lots of activity. The museum is filled on that day with all kinds of families. The parking lot is filled. We usually base this on one our exhibitions or an artist on view.”
The other free entry day at PAMM is on the first Thursday of every month, from 10:00 until the museum closes. This is a family programme where everyone from young toddlers to senior citizens has the chance to do an art project.
The separate adult programme, according to Adrienne, includes: “lectures, talks, symposiums and performances, and our docent programme.”
She added: “We have 45 docents, who are all volunteers and provide our daily free tours for the public.”
Adrienne is rightly proud of the whole team at PAMM and their work to create varied and dynamic public interaction. She makes particular mention of one colleague: “Anita Graham is a young, energetic, amazingly logistical manager who runs all of the talks and lectures and performances.
The list of the museum’s planned events and exhibits is exhilaratingly varied, packed with something for all interests.
It includes everything from a focus on British Football from every possible angle, to a perspective Adrienne describes as: “Christo, Surrounded Islands, which is an earth work that he did in Miami in the 1980s where he used pink material to wrap 11 of the Biscayne Bay Islands.”
Perhaps one of the best examples of a PAMM exhibit that embraces cultural diversity and the unifying nature of art is by William Cordova. “He’s a local artist, and he’s from Peru. He considers himself Afro-Peruvian. He’s very interested in hybridity of cultures and the Latinx culture and how different cultures mix.”
There is also a fascinating display of boats by Hew Lock when you enter PAMM, which illustrates the all-embracing nature of art.
Adrienne said: “He’s a Guyanese artist who lives in Scotland. Or maybe he’s a Scottish artist who has Guyanese ancestry. His work is what you see when you enter the museum with all the boats. It’s called, For Those in Peril on the Sea. It’s all about migration. Each of those 72 boats have a different representation of a different culture, and they’re all facing east.”
She concluded: “That’s part of our collection that’s really kind of a big part of the identity of our museum and our curatorial vision that we have.”
Clearly, the museum takes its curating role extremely seriously, bringing together local Creole culture and art, but also blending together other world influences.
Yet it also makes sure that visitors have fun!