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Friday July 13, 2012

Pride, Greed, Sloth, and general incompetence

7 Deadly Sins This week in local cultural malice, incompetence, and shoddiness, sung to the tune of the seven deadly sins. I’ve only got four this week, so I guess we’re not doing so bad

Sloth

I am sure that the Florida Cultural Alliance does important work, and deserves all the support we can muster for them. But when I saw the email they sent out yesterday, I just had to share it as an example of the worst kind of corporospeak, and the worst in online interaction design. Try — just try — to have any sense of what the purpose of the email is and what they want you to do after reading it just once. Not possible. I’ve ready if about a half donzen times and I get it now, and it’s stark. The FCA has apparently submitted SUGGESTIONS to a Florida State government entity. They want you to familiarize yourself with the state program they’re addressing, read their dense PDF suggestions, write a letter indicating your support for their suggestions and fax (Yes. Fax. In 2012.) it to the number provided TODAY BY 5 PM. Doesn’t say who you’re faxing it to, and doesn’t say why it has to be today. But hey — this was dated 1:25 pm, so they’re giving you more than three hours. Get on it.

Oh! And as an afterthought, yeah, you can submit your suggestions for the Five-Year Strategic Plan. Oh wait no, that’s for the Six-Pillar Framework. You do it by clicking into a PDF (this one created by the State) that takes your comments and has a “email this form” button which to me looked suspiciously like just a text box with no functionality.

Pride

It’s not in my nature to wipe lipstick off a pig, but the Jewish Museum of Florida couldn’t hack it anymore and signed it’s buildings and collection to FIU. And that’s fine. The Wolfsonian certainly seems to be thriving under FIU’s wing. But tacking the initials of the university to the organization’s name, which henceforth will be “Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU”, is galling. It makes perfect sense from the institutional ego perspective, but would have been overruled by typographic aesthetics and all-around sanity at a classier organization.

Envy

While Googling around for the previous article, I perchanced to click on a link to a Sun Sentinel article. You will probably not get it, but here’s what I saw:

sun sentinel screenshot

“Hey, you found a link to one of our articles in a search engine! Can we interest you in a home-delivery subscription to our newspaper?” Look at your statistics Sun Sentinel — this is not helping your subscription rates. And I guarantee you that it’s hurting your readership and credibility. And while we’re on it: I understand why your pages need to be choked with ads, but spam popover links? Really?

Greed

Next February, the Arsht Center is hosting a concert tribute to Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. It’s part of a series of six concerts, half of which are these condescending “tributes” to Jazz Names You Recognize, which in my opinion are demeaning to the performer, the legendary figure, and the audience. But something (and I’m assuming it’s actually not the Arsht Center’s people) has sunk to a particularly odious level with this, which I received in yesterday’s email:

thelonious monk

Thelonious Monk is died in 1982 after a heartbreaking final few years. He is a hero to musicians and creative people everywhere. And while this concert does include his son, using the man’s name and image like this is repugnant. There is a special place in hell for the people that did this, where they can hang out with the folks behind the John Lennon shirts

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Thursday March 27, 2008

Cleveland Orchestra does Beethoven's 5th

The Cleveland Orchestra once again rolled into town this week for their all-too-brief Miami season. They performed a concert last night in honor of Israel’s 60th anniversary, and perform a second program this Friday and Saturday. Last night’s program, a nod to Leonard Bernstein’s historic performances in Israel in 1948, included Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, a Mozart Piano Concerto, and Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes.

The show opened with readings of the US and Israeli national anthems, which musically work very well together, the latter’s sombre slow build a nice counterpoint to the Banner’s usual pomposity. This was followed by a rather lengthy curtain talk by the executive director of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation (at one point, he launched into a list of technologies invented in Israel!).

Originally composed for clarinet, string quartet, and piano, Prokofiev transcribed Overture on Hebrew Themes for orchestra himself, and it does as advertised, running medley-like through Klezmer and other recognizable ideas, toe-tapping one moment, morose and swooping the next.

So, how do you get a piano to the front of the stage in the middle of an orchestra performance? Like this, my friends — you break down as many of the band risers as you need to wheel that puppy out. I’m not sure they needed to bother, actually. Mozart always sounds like Mozart, but the Piano Concerto No. 21 is almost a self-parody, the most Mozarty construct ever, a summation of every fun idea out precocious Austrian buddy ever had. Well played by the 31-year old Shai Wosner, who’s nervous tics complemented the music pretty well. He fidgeted with the height-adjust on his piano stool, made motions as though wiping dust off the keyboard and shaking it onto the floor, and shook his head quickly during the more stirring piano-less passages. A couple of times I caught him sort of shaking his fist at the keyboard before launching into one of his slow phrases. He seemed to take less relish in delivering these than the 32nd note runs and trills, which he handled with commanding smoothness. Don’t let me mislead you, though — Mozart is always a delight to hear, and this was a big, delicious slice of Mozart (who, first and foremost a keyboardist himself, is arguably better represented by this concerto than by, say, one of his symphonies or operas).

But it was all preamble, because after intermission came LvB’s Symphony No. 5, one of the most gripping pieces in western music. It’s on pieces like this, that you’ve heard 100 times before, that you truly begin to appreciate the unparalleled mastery of the Cleveland Orchestra and the rich sound of the Arscht’s concert hall. Sounds and details I’d never noticed before snuck out at every turn, and the whole thing was alive in a way which few things are. Opening with the heavy, stark, almost modernist first movement, the symphony has light moments, but they are few. Mostly it’s dramatic and full-throttle, and fainting and heart attacks do not seem like inappropriate responses. A friend once explained to me that while the string quartet is his favorite sound in terms of timbre and nuance, the appeal of an orchestra is its sheer visceral power, and that power was in full force last night.

Well, you missed it. No worries — you can catch the Cleveland Orchestra this weekend, in a program built around a Tchaikovsky violin concerto. Tickets available for Friday and Saturday, tho only Saturday has some of the cheaper seats left.

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Wednesday March 26, 2008

Hey everybody, the Cleveland Orchestra is performing Beethoven’s Fifth, tonight only.

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Wednesday January 30, 2008

I’m sure glad they just got done putting up these custom-made signs. I fully expect that Adrienne will have the tact to insist on less obnoxious signage.

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Monday January 14, 2008

Carnival Center renamed the Arsht Center

Arsht Center

On Friday, the performing arts center previously known as Carnival dropped the bomb: it had received a $30 million donation from one Adrienne Arsht, and would now be forever after known as the Arsht Center. Well, actually, the official name is the “Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County.” Observations, bullet-point style:

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Wednesday November 7, 2007

The new CEO of the Carnival Center, Lawrence Wilker, will also act as Artistic Director. This is a good thing — it’s important for the chief of the organization to be intimate with the actual programming. By the way, Target Globebeat, which brought in the Center’s opening last year, will take the form this year of monthly free outdoor performances by local groups on the second Saturday of every month.

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Monday October 29, 2007

Michael Hardy, CEO of the Carnival Center, has been fired and replaced with Lawrence J.Wilker.

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Monday October 1, 2007

Much of the fault for the less-than-ideal experience of going to the Carnival Center falls on the architect, Caesar Pelli. I lamented the selection of Pelli’s firm for the Center over two years ago, and it’s nice to see the dots connected this way.

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Thursday September 13, 2007

“To reduce costs, the [Carnival Center] plans to present 60% fewer performances itself next year and offer fewer self-sponsored commercially popular shows such as comedies and pop music artists, leaving open dates for outside presenters — but finding room for those shows on the calendar will be tricky.”

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Wednesday August 29, 2007

Cesar Pelli's firm sued

carnival center The architecture firm of Cesar Pelli, which designed the Carnival Center, is being sued in California for cost overruns on a performing arts center project there. File under: things that make you go “hmm…” Among the complaints are seats with obstructed sight lines and other things that are clearly design flaws and incompetence (if true), which brings me back to my bemoaning, back in 2005, the selection of Pelli over Rem Koolhaas.

A response from Pelli’s firm:

Because buildings last for a very long time, we have always designed our projects with a long-term perspective. As with the Carnival Center, we designed the Orange County Performing Arts Center for the enjoyment of the children of the community and the generations to come. These issues will sort themselves out over time.

Which to me sounds like they wanted to say: “It’s just money. You expect us to worry about money when we’re building our monuments to the future? How short-sighted and small-minded you non-creative scum can be!”

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Wednesday July 18, 2007

Here’s a horse/cart order issue for you: the Carnival Center was told it needs higher-profile programming to attract more private donations. Makes sense, but big names cost big bucks, and you really can’t put expected increases in donations in your budget. Perhaps timely, more money for the center from the county.

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Monday June 11, 2007

“Ingots were buried under the Miami Performing Arts Center by workers installing the subterranean infrastructure. The performance was photographed. The ingots remain.”

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Wednesday June 6, 2007

Trouble at the Concert Association of Florida

Judy Drucker photo by Darryl Strawser Judy Drucker started the Concert Association of Florida, and has been its leader for the last forty years. Until last week, that is, when she was forced out by the board of the organization.

Now, Drucker is a phenomenon. In 2003, the SunPost said, “Drucker virtually created the vibrant performing arts cultural scene in South Florida over which she reigns as supreme and indispensable diva.” But the Concert Association has a deficit that from the sound of the article is approaching $3 million. Drucker is described as “feisty,” which many who have worked with her translate to mean “difficult,” “obstinate,” and — well, you get the picture. She’ll be replaced by Al Milano, who’s been with the CA less then a year, but she’ll stay on as an adviser, so I don’t think this will really tarnish her reputation.

The bigger question is what this portends for Miami’s future. There are two ways to read the events. It’s possible that Drucker simply made some mistakes, and with someone else keeping an eye on the books everything will level itself back out. A more ominous possibility is that if Drucker couldn’t make it work, maybe nobody can. Remember that a chief justification for building the Carnival Center was six major performing arts organizations that needed a home. Well, the Florida Philharmonic folded before the center was even completed, and now we’re down to four. The Herald article lists the increased “rental costs and other service fees” at the Carnival Center as one of the main reasons for the Concert Association’s troubles. Remember the tense negotiations early last year between these organizations and the center? What if the center just pushed too hard, and the fees are such that, especially after a little miscounting, they end up sinking the Concert Association?

It’s just possible that Drucker couldn’t make it work because nobody can make it work. And if the CA folds, it’s just going to make life that much worse for the Carnival Center. Heck, it’ll make life worse for everybody. I talked this over with Tiffany Hill, who is on the board of directors of the Florida Dance Association and Artistic Director of the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood (yes: where I work), who helped me think this through. She summed it up this way: “It’s all bad for the cultural scene of South Florida.”

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Thursday May 31, 2007

Hmm, it looks like the Carnival Center will in fact be closed for part of the summer, for August and part of September, probably in part as a money-saving measure.

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Wednesday May 23, 2007

Break me a give — everybody’s up in arms about (granted, another) $4 million budget shortfall at the Carnival Center, but a $503 million budget overrun at the airport barely gets noticed.

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Tuesday April 17, 2007

More criticism of Carnival Center, from Michael Putney and Genious of Despair.

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Wednesday April 11, 2007

Michael Hardy's Herald essay about the Carnival Center

carnivalBYnight

Michael Hardy’s Herald essay about the Carnival Center. I suspected that not pointing out he was the center’s director was a part of the Herald’s head-up-ass approach to their website, and that he was so identified in the print edition, as Henry confirms. The essay goes point by point through some of the complaints the Center has received, most of them just routine first-year pains.

I agree that it’s a little disingenuous of Hardy to imply that the tax money that has gone into the center is “not taxpayer money,” and he’s been taken to task. But the bed-tax aspect is worth remembering, and looking at this from the perspective of decades, it’s very possible that the center will pay for itself with the economic revitalization it has very obviously begun to bring (contrast that with the three or four stadiums we’ve built so far with the bed tax).

But I think part of the reason there is so much
hostility is that several completely different things are being conflated when we talk about the “Carnival Center.” Primarily, there is the lingering pain of a construction project run several hundred million dollars over budget at the taxpayers’ (sorry) expense. But of course the organization of which Michael Hardy is director had nothing to do with that. There is the building, and there is the organization that currently manages the building. There are plenty to be blamed for the botched construction project — the county government, the architect, the general contractor, etc., but obviously the arts administrators running the facility didn’t have anything to do with that. (And let’s remember that a not insignificant portion of the expanding construction costs was due to increases in building materials that effected construction worldwide.)

Same goes for the current parking fiasco, which should have been addressed at the earliest stages of planning by the visionaries (I almost used that word in quotes, but let’s do give them some credit) who were pushing for this project for decades.

Another source of frustration is traffic around the center. Let me tell you that the Heat fans going to the American Airlines Arena certainly do share some of that frustration. From what I’ve seen walking around the area on a couple of super-busy nights, the police do a piss-poor job of managing the traffic, but it’s worth remembering that Biscayne Boulevard is undergoing major roadwork in that area.

What I think is that the Center’s programming is spot-on. It’s diverse, with plenty of broad appealing programs (musicals and Broadway were always part of the plan) as well as lots of high-art and esoteric things. The problems are on the marketing/outreach side, and while Hardy is correct that word-of-mouth and time are the two most important factors in increasing attendance, there are some obvious things the Center should be looking at (fix the !@#$% website), and some not-so-obvious solutions it should be looking for. Maybe re-thing the print-ad blitz and bring in some fresh ideas for marketing. The center is doing lots of public outreach, but I suspect that’s the area that needs to be beefed up. Maybe some of that radical transparency would help (Hardy’s essay is a good first step).

I like the fact that the Herald can run a ‘things are pretty bad’ article alongside the essay. But I think of it this way — the Carnival’s start has been messy, and if anything there still isn’t enough blame falling on the people who screwed things up. But I think a rocky start is part of the beginning of anything really great. We could have built a smaller, cheaper, less ambitious performing arts center (almost everyone agrees that something along these lines needed to be built), but is that really what Miami deserved?

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Tuesday April 10, 2007

Miami-Dade commissioners are cooking up a plan for Carnival Center parking. I don’t understand why it’s this difficult to figure out parking for a building that’s essentially surrounded on all four sides by parking lots ready to be built up into garages. Also, examination of the report (.pdf) reveals what a very paper-based and old-school administrative system is our county government.

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Monday March 12, 2007

Robert goes to Carnival Center for Swan Lake and has some interesting analysis of ticket prices and comparative value. He concludes that even the worst seats in the house are pretty good, and the prices are reasonable. See my Carnival Center review for more, including a photo from the opera house’s worst seat (about 2/3 of the way down the page). The legroom issue is interesting, since of course each additional inch of legroom means you sit further away depending on how many rows are in front of you.

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Wednesday March 7, 2007

Subtropics: Fluxus Day, FIU New Music Ensemble, and Jan Williams

Subtropics: Fluxus Day

Subtropics: Fluxus Day

Subtropics: Fluxus Day

Subtropics: Fluxus Day

Fluxus Eve was lots of fun. Clockwise from top right: George Brecht, Motor Vehicle Sundown Event (for John Cage), Larry Miller, Remote Music (for Keyboard), fire piece (not sure of title), and Alison Knowles, Onion Skin Song. Most of these pieces are around 50 years old, and Knowles and Miller were on hand to perform their compositions and add some character (not to mention gravitas) to the performance — both were great. Note that they have these corridors that run through the Carnival Center that are wide enough to drive a car through — and they did!! Also, the highlight of the evening was when Knowles took off one of her shoes, explained where she got it and why she liked it, and invited audience members to share about their shoes. Tigertail’s Mary Luft: “These are Birkenstocks. I’ve never liked Birkenstocks, and I only bought these because they match my silver toenail polish.” Yeah!

Subtropics: FIU New Music Ensemble

I saw the FIU New Music Ensemble a couple of years ago performing the music of James Tenney and Christian Wolff at the Wolfsonian, and remembered being extremely impressed, so I had misplaced expectations of greatness for their Subtropics performance. Maybe the Earle Brown pieces were intended to sound hesitant, creaky, and atonal, but even if so I’m convinced that the performers enhanced those qualities with their natural tendencies (re. which: “Sit up!”). Yes, they’re students. But I’m not going easy on them — someone obviously thought it was a good idea to include them in the festival, and people paid the same money to see them.

Their musical director apologized because they couldn’t perform the first movement of Lou Harrison’s Varied Trio (because of a “missing microphone” — wtf??), but didn’t see fit to mention anything about a missing clarinet player that is listed for the two of the pieces which thus became quartets instead of quintets. Pianist Marta Milosevic showed the most promise out of the group, but her solo performance, of a propulsive John Cage prepared piano piece, was marred by sloppy page turning — she actually had to pause because fool turned two pages at once.

Subtropics: Jan Williams

Jan Williams performing Pickup Sticks by Gustavo Matamoros (1998). The snare drum is microphoned and connected to a Powerbook, triggering digital sound/noise sequences whenever the player makes a mistake and disturbs the snare head. So yes, the point is to make as little sound as possible, and Williams looked genuinely frustrated whenever he messed up (but he was probably pretending). Another composition consisted of whole notes played on a muted gong for what I seriously estimate was 45 minutes and nothing else. This was more interesting then it sounds, but only slightly. I didn’t realize it was a La Monte Young young piece, and I think if I had I’d have heard it differently.

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Friday March 2, 2007

Merce Cunningham' s Ocean

Merce Cunningham - Ocean

Thanks to the good people at Carnival Center, I finally got my taste of Merce in Miami. To wit: the 90 minute 1994 piece Ocean.

Intended to be performed in the round, with the dancers on a circular stage surrounded by the audience, and the audience surrounded by the orchestra, the piece was a brave, if imperfect, fit for the Knight Concert hall (my second favorite room in the city, second only to my living room, and it would even upstage that if they got rid of the bizarre fabric hanging in the middle behind the stage — teal and with a pattern that doesn’t go with anything else in the building — in fact, it sort of looks like a “it was on clearance at the fabric store” type of situation — what gives?).

Oh shit sorry for the digression. Anyway Merce Cunningham sort of invented Modern (with a capital “M”) Dance in the 1940/50s, and his work comes across as stark and formal to this day. This is hardcore, rigorous choreography, with no allusion to an external story, or even to regular human interaction.

Basically, Cunningham is to dance what the abstract expressionists were to painting — a reduction to the essence of the art, with references to outside phenomena (i.e. human story-lines) minimized. This is pure movement, and it’s not for everyone.

The piece builds slowly over exactly 90 minutes, the musicians and dancers synchronized by large digital timers clearly visible to the audience. At 1:29:59 the last of the dancers disappears from the stage and that baby is over. That is preceded by a gradual and methodical development (Supposedly the piece is divided into 19 sections, though I read it as maybe 7.) — we begin with very stiff movements, and angular relationships of bodies, which gradually become more organic and energetic. The piece builds to a sort of crescendo (pictured) of movement and color, much more satisfying then what the beginning sections promise. There are dazzling moves, unexpected relationships, and novel ideas at every turn.

What I’m getting at is that it was spectacular. Cunningham (who attended the performance) was 75 when he put Ocean together, and he’d mastered the art of working the crowd — the piece starts out difficult, and gives off hints of beauty grudgingly at first, then introduces new ideas and variations, never allowing the attentive viewer a moment of boredom.

Or does it? I noticed a beautiful review by Jane Simpson of a true in-the-round performance of the piece, and she had some issues with it (go read, she’s great). But the Carnival Center performance of the piece was I guess the polar opposite to what Simpson saw — the musicians sat on the upper level of balconies, far from most of the audience, and the round mat on the stage hardly masked the fact that most of the audience were, in fact, seeing the performance from roughly a single perspective.

Reservations aside, this is a masterwork by the founding father of modern dance. It’s the culmination of Merce in Miami, which is exactly the sort of thing that Carnival Center should be doing — the sort of thing that makes all the heartache surrounding its construction worth it. It’s being performed again Friday and again Saturday, and anyone who loves dance, or likes to challenge their aesthetics, should get down there.

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Thursday February 22, 2007

Another day, another article about the rising costs of the Carnival Center. This time it’s an adjustment to the actual construction costs, up $12.5 million to a total of $472.97 million.

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Tuesday February 13, 2007

Michael Putney did the recitation for Copland’s Lincoln Portrait during the Miami Symphony Orchestra’s performance at Carnival Center on Sunday. In the Herald, Alan Becker was not too impressed.

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Wednesday February 7, 2007

The bad news: the Carnival Center miscounted attendances at three Concert Association shows. The good news: this means the Concert Association actually owes Carnival money. But my favorite quote from the article, from CC director Michael Hardy, concerns the previous firing of two previous box office managers, and gives some great euphemism: “we were experiencing some customer-service issues in the box office and some reporting issues that were software-related, and we decided to make a change to get after that and correct that.”

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Friday January 26, 2007

Low ticket sales and high operating costs caused an unanticipated $610,000 loss for the first three months at the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts. Not good, but attendence went from 26% in October to 38% in November to 52% in December.

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Wednesday January 24, 2007

Cleveland Orchestra at Carnival Center

Carnival Center, Cleveland ORchestra
photo: Roger Mastroianni

For all intents and purposes, this past weekend was the night everyone was waiting for with respect to the Carnival Center’s concert hall — the first performance by by a full-scale, professional orchestra. The Cleveland Orchestra did it right, too, performing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, paired with Leonard Bernstein’s 1st, to a sold-out audience. We already know that the Cleveland Orchestra is considered the best in the country, so the real question regards the Knight Concert Hall’s acoustics. (Although “Are they so good that a few performances a year make up for not having a local orchestra?” comes to mind.)

So let’s just get it out of the way: the room sounds great. When the music goes lound and fast in the 4th movement of the 9th it was almost overpowering. But where it really shines is on the quiet bits. Bernstein gets all 20th-century-American experimental in the first movement of his symphony, and there are little one and two bar solos for various instruments. Each time, it sounded like the player was sitting in my lap. Your ear adjusts for dynamic levels the same way your eye does going from a darkened theater into bright sunlight, but the Knight hall made everything sound just right.

The hall’s sound-modifying features were in their medium-intimate setting, with the canopy in its lowest position and the sound-doors partially open. I spoke to Gary Hanson, the Cleveland Orchestra’s executive director, who told me that this was the orchestra’s preferred configuration, giving the Knight Concert Hall an intimate sound, not unlike that of their own Severance Hall. The configuration was determined during the orchestra’s tuning visit to Miami last year, and will be used for all Cleveland Orchestra performances at Carnival Center. Other orchestras may choose a different configuration; for example, the New World Symphony actually changed the configuration between pieces during their inaugural performance last year.

Hanson was enthusiastic about the sound. He pointed out that like any concert hall, the sound is a little more reverberant in the top balconies and a little more present on the floor, but it is generally very consistent, which is in fact one of the marks of a great hall. The Cleveland Orchestra is very happy in the Knight Concert Hall.

So on to the show. The performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony was spectacular, comparing very favorably with my London Symphony Orchestra recording, especially in the third movement, which sounded the most modern. The biggest difference I noticed was in the opening; whereas on my recording the first movement opens with a bang, on Saturday it built dramatically from a quiet foundation. This performance featured 180 singers from the U/M Frost Chorale and the Master Chorale of South Florida. They sat motionless behind the orchestra for the first three movements, and only came in for the grand fourth movement (the longest), which goes full-tilt almost from beginning to end. Wow. Lawrence Johnson checked the Friday show out for the Herald, and he was also thrilled. (By the way, here is an interesting radio interview with conductor Franz Welser-Möst about his views of Beethoven’s 9th.)

What do you pair the most famous symphony in history with? Welser-Möst chose Leonard Bernstein’s 1st symphony, which seems odd only at first blush. Bernstein’s three movements are very different from each other; one is probing and experimental in a early-20th century sort of way (quirky two-bar solos! woodblock!), the second is fast and dramatic, and the third is mournful, and featured Kelly O’Connor’s vocal (which was wonderful, but honestly I couldn’t even tell what language she was singing, and it was English); this was the perfect thing to wake up the ears.

And so we have one of the best orchestras in the world in town for a few weeks every year. And while some former members of the defunct Florida Philharmonic feel that this will make it more difficult to re-form a local orchestra, as an audience all we can do is enjoy it. Apropos of that, extra seats have just been released (on the choral riser! should be a great place to sit) for the performances this weekend (Mahler!), and tickets are also available for the March performances (Tchaikovsky!).

I wouldn’t let the high-art thing intimidate me, by the way. Dress nice and bring your active-listening ears and you’ll be fine. If you can avoid wearing a loud jangly bracelet and moving around all night, you’ll be doing better then the woman sitting across the aisle from me (what was she thinking?). There is nothing quite like being in this particular room listening to this particular band; it’s something everyone should do.

See also: More information about the Knight Concert Hall at my Carnival Center writeup.

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Monday January 15, 2007

WOW! How much did this cost? Looks nice, can me and a couple hundred of my homeless friends live in it?” Don’t miss the video.

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Friday December 29, 2006

Noo Yeerz Eave weekend

king mango strut parade

New Years’ Eve? Well, there really are perfectly good stuff-to-do lists all over the place: Miami Music Guide, the Herald (1, 2), MiamiBeach411, and the aforementioned Miami Nights, so I see no reason to do one of my own. The smart money is celebrating with a small group of friends at a low key party, anyway. I’ll be at OceanDance, and you’re all invited.

By the way, tonight, End of Cinematics [Flash with sound] at the Carnival opera house looks impressive, and of course Woody Allen is kicking it old-school in the concert hall.

What about Monday? How about brunch and a light outdoor activity in the early afternoon?

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Thursday December 28, 2006

Carnival Center

A few new photos at the Miami at night photoset. Here’s the Carnival Center from across the bay.

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Thursday December 14, 2006

The Blue Man Period of Milton Van der Spuy

The Blue Man Period of Milton Van der Spuy

Greig Coetzee performed this one-man play tonight, and will do so again Saturday and Sunday. It’s a fantasy about a man who fancies himself an artist, a “Renaissance Man,” but is actually a wannabe dabbler. Coetzee lets us laugh at his character for most of the play, but of course he’s got a sad twist up his sleeve: the refrain of the play seems to be “but mother says, my talents lie elsewhere.”

Any one-person play will struggle to be more then a monologue, right? But Coetzee does a remarkably good job, making excellent use of fractured story lines, jumping from present to reverie, and making surprisingly great use of props. It’s a low-key and whimsical little piece, but completely worth seeing.

At the Carnival Center Studio Theater; two performances this weekend. Coetzee is also doing White Men with Weapons, which looks at least as good. (At just over an hour each, it seems like they could have done them both together with a long intermission.)

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Tuesday October 10, 2006

The Carnival Center for the Performing Arts

Carnival Center Montage

Here’s my full write-up on the Carnival Center’s—Miami’s—new building. Lots of text, lots of pictures = too long to go into the main text flow. Hence the unprescented move of doing a jump. Sorry. Deal with it and click:

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Monday October 9, 2006

Carnival Center opening: Target GlobalBeat

Carnival Center Target Globebeat

Target GlobalBeat was the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts’ giant opening party for Miami: a free, 10-hour, 50-performer festival, where the doors were basically thrown open and anyone who wanted to could roam the entire complex unrestricted. And it was expertly organized, too: I suspect that anyone who caught even one of the shows would have been impressed: especially the indoor performances were all first class, many were exotic, and they worked together to create a seamless kaleidoscope of music from around the world by featuring mostly local performers and with international talent. A class act. There were some minor problems with the sound, which I’ll mention as I go along, but for the most part they take nothing away from the excellent performers or the Center; after all, each venue (and there were seven) had at least six different performers, who went on in quick succession and with little to no sound check. I’ll talk about the performers today, and get into looking at the buildings themselves tomorrow.

Carnival Center Target Globebeat

The Florida Memorial Steelband opened things in the Knight Concert Hall. Their MC explained how a steel band works—there are 10 players on the steel drums, plus two “percussionists.” They played a few original compositions, then brought out the horns and launched into some Sonny Rollins. It was all quite beautiful, even for the faint-of-steeldrum. Featured audio issue: a hissing (almost buzzing) sound from the speakers between songs, probably from a piece of the band’s equipment, because it was gone later.

Carnival Center Target Globebeat

Bharti Chokshi, of the Association of Performing Arts of India, rocks the sitar, with a tabla player, in the Studio Theater. The sitar/tabla combination is the quintessential configuration for Indian classical music. Both instruments are so complex that if you close your eyes, it’s difficult to imagine that only two people are making it. Both the performers were masterful, but the 15-minute set, all with people crowding in and taking flash pictures, was hardly ideal for enjoyment of this type of music. Featured audio issue: a strange reverb on the tabla that made the dāyāñ (the smaller of the two drums) dominate the mix a bit. (And yes, my photo is out of focus; I was there to enjoy myself, not fuss with photography.)

Carnival Center Target Globebeat

Next up were two Indian dancers. They were completely spellbinding, as was the choreography. Their movements were sometimes in unison, sometimes sequential, and sometimes complimentary, and were punctuated by pauses, during which the dancers stood motionless except for subtle movements of their heads. They were, in a word, tight. I cannot possibly explain how great the Association of Performing Arts of India is, or the completely otherworldly beauty of Indian culture. Update: The dancers are Madhavi and Meenakshi Menon, and they have a website.

Carnival Center Target Globebeat

Outside, the giant dragon puppet, brought by the Miami Overseas Chinese Association, rages to the accompaniment of giant drums.

Carnival Center Target Globebeat

Fusho Daiko, a Taiko ensemble, at the Ziff Ballet Opera House. They cranked it up to 10 right at the start, and then turned it up to 11 later, blasting the place out with just enough rhythmic variation (and almost no harmonic content, except for the occasional conch blow) to be mesmerizing. In a word: fierce. They generally rearranged the drums between every piece, varying the organizational structure of the group. This was one of the highlights of the day. (An inquisitive reader will want to know: “do the men in the ensemble shave their armpits?” Answer: some of them.) Featured audio problem: none—they were unamplified!

Carnival Center Target Globebeat

One of several parades/street parties in the plaza.

Carnival Center Target Globebeat

Peru Expression. The band played one song (featured audio problem: the singer and guitar were almost inaudible for most of the song), and then the singer launched into a long story, in Spanish, before bringing out the dancers. I was out of there.

Carnival Center Target Globebeat

Black Violin, who bring the hip-hop approach to, um, violins. Their act consists of playing violin along with existing songs, and setting classical pieces to beats. The latter approach works a little better, but overall I can imagine this group being more effective in concert, going back and forth with 50 Cent (as they recently did). Still cool, though.

Carnival Center Target Globebeat

A reduced version of the normally 30-member Klezmer Company Orchestra played around, setting old Klezmer songs to South American rhythms, which worked surprisingly well. Not as joyous and unrestrained as I’d have expected, but they played well, and their musical director’s between-song history and anecdotes were interesting. Featured audio problem: couldn’t hear the bass(!), except when she played one particular note, high up on the neck.

Carnival Center Target Globebeat

I was in the nosebleed section for the Delou Africa Dance Ensemble, which turned out to be a bad choice, because I couldn’t see the dancing very well, other then to get a sense of joyous abandon. The music was a different story, though. Employing a similar ensemble and soloist strategy as the Taiko group, but to completely different ends, it was precise, aggressive, and had the feeling of one-upsmanship, but with a constant give-and take. The drummers would lay low, and the African Xylophone would play some polyphony, and then they’d come to the front of stage and trade solos, walking while playing. Great. Featured audio problem: feedback.

Carnival Center Target Globebeat

Conjuncto Progreso. Featured audio problem: not sure, they were arguing with the sound guy and hadn’t started yet. I couldn’t stick around, because I was on my way to see . . .

Carnival Center Target Globebeat

The Cooper Temple Church of God in Christ Mass Choir, which was a powerhouse. This is the contemporary gospel choir in full force, and everyone was suitably impressed. Maybe there was a little too much emphasis on the drums, and not enough on the singers, but it worked perfectly for me. Wow.

Carnival Center Target Globebeat

One of the many performances in the lobby of the Concert Hall. I believe this was Los Tangueros.

Carnival Center Target Globebeat

Back over to the Studio Theater, where local break-dance crew D-Projects was doing their thing. I only caught a little, but again, it looked like one of the highlights. Breaking done right is still impressive. And it’s still being done right, twenty-five years later. Crazy.

Carnival Center Target Globebeat

Mayday [Flash!] was in the house, playing to what looked mostly like fans, and impressing the crap out of everyone. Not bad for a white, 4-piece (keyboards, bass, DJ, MC) outfit. Featured audio problem: a horrible crackling distorted sound every time the DJ tried to scratch. This was in the Peacock Studio, which is really a dance rehearsal space. It was set up without seating, and black fabric covering the walls, sort of club-like.

Carnival Center Target Globebeat

DJ Craze, three-time World DMC Champion, closed out the night with some of his jaw-dropping turntable dexterity. Actually, I take that back: there are other scratch-DJ’s who focus on show-off DJ techniques, and while Craze has his share of show, what puts him over is his musicality. Dude is dope. Don’t take my word for it, check him out here. Dang!

Carnival Center Target Globebeat

There you have it: a class act all around. I can’t imagine anyone going to this event and not feeling right about the Performing Arts Center. Maybe they’ll throw a big party like this once a year? There’s hoping. My biggest quibble with the day was the annoying plastic rattlers that someone was handing out to the kids; whoever had that idea deserves eternity in a purgatory where a hundred kids shake those things at random while they’re trying to pay attention to something. Also, I think there was a fear of having the place overrun with an unmanageable amount of people, hence the wristband thing, which allowed the organizers to reserve the right to exercise some sort of control. No worries, though: while the event was well attended, there was no shortage of wristbands, and I didn’t hear anyone complain about not being able to see what they wanted to see. And everyone was walking around with smiles on their faces; I think it was a genuine pride and excitement, that after all the problems, this thing is finished, and it’s being done right. Tomorrow: the building!

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Friday October 6, 2006

Carnival Center opening

Carnival etching 2Carnival Etching 1

This is it, folks: the big weekend! And not only does the Carnival Center have a brand new website that actually works, but in addition to the expensive stuff happening all this weekend, there’s a free festival, Globalbeat, on Sunday from noon to 10 pm. Ok, ok, there are still some problems: when you click the Globalbeat link on the website you get a blank page (try here for the basics), and apparently the big show on Thursday didn’t go over great, but it sounds like stuff that can be ironed out. See you there Sunday.

Update: Manola comes through with a press release she dug up out of the Google cache(!) and posted in the comments.

Target Globalbeat is free, but space is limited for the indoor performances. Vouchers, which are redeemable for wrist bands on the day of the event, will be available at the 13 Miami-Dade County Commissioners’ District offices from Monday, September 18 to Friday, September 22. Carnival Center recommends contacting the District offices for a specific time and date to pick up vouchers. Vouchers can be redeemed at the Target Globalbeat Tent on Sunday, October 8 for wrist bands which provide admittance into the Center during any one of three three-hour sessions beginning at noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Wrist bands will also be issued, as space permits, on Sunday at the Target Globalbeat Tent up to two hours before the start of each session. Arriving early is highly recommended.

Hmm… in other words, anyone who had the inside scoop and got their vouchers two weeks ago is getting in. Everyone else will have to show up and hope for the best.

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Monday October 2, 2006

Great idea: Verticus proposes turning the Biscayne Boulevard corridor around the CCPA into a theater district. It’s going to take some forward-thinking folks in the development sector, some daring creative types, and a little help from the government.

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Wednesday September 27, 2006

Carnival Center for the Performing Arts opens

Carnival Center for the Performing Arts John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall

The Carnival Center for the Performing Arts Sanford And Dolores Ziff Opera House had its big opening night last night with the musical The Light in the Piazza. Michael Hardy was on the radio earlier in the day saying that part of what made it a good choice for the opening that it was relatively simple, technically—a good idea for the opening night of anything.

It sounds like everything went off without a hitch. In addition to the article, the Herald has a video, a slide show, and trotted out (hopefully for the last time) their crappy flash animation depicting the construction process.

The parking situation was hassle free, though I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet—this was only one of the houses, not even completely full (see the pic), and since it was an opening party, people arrived over an extended period, not in a big rush. Rave reviews for the hall itself, as well as for the outdoor and lobby artwork, though. Sounds like everything went very well!

Update: Right after I hit “post” came the review of the show from Christine Dolan: “And in the very first test of the new theater’s sound, from the orchestra-level seats, it wasn’t just good—it was superb. Near the end of the show, when an agitated Clara sits alone trying to sort out the truth of her life, as she smacks at her face and smoothes the flowing skirt of her dress, you hear the slap of skin-on-skin and the rustle of lacy fabric.” Yay!

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Tuesday September 26, 2006

Carnival Center for the Performing Arts Knight Concert Hall

Alex deCarvalho has a pretty amazing set of photos of the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts Knight Concert Hall shot last week during the tuning concert. Looks beautiful.

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Monday September 25, 2006

plaza at carnival performing arts center with zany designs

‘Pharaoh’s Dance,’ a site-specific installation by Gary L. Moore on the plaza of the new Carnival Center for the Performing Arts. (via dig)

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Thursday August 17, 2006

Carnival Center for the Performing Arts in the news

The cover of Inside Arts, with a big photo of Carnival Center rendering

Here’s the cover of the March/April issue of Inside Arts. The cover story contrasts the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts with the Carpenter Center in Richmond in a standard success/failure scenario:

The geometry of the new Cesar Pelli-designed Miami Performing Arts Center, scheduled to open October 5, 2006, already forms the dominant profile along Biscayne Boulevard in the city’s Omni District—the emblem of a revitalized and quickly changing Florida metropolis and of an elevated profile for arts presentation.

Meanwhile, in downtown Richmond, Va., between Broad and Main Streets, the Carpenter Center sits dark and unused. And the ambitious performing arts center project set in motion by the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation—which involved the renovating and expanding the Carpenter Center and two other existing venues as well as constructing a brand-new music hall—is stalled in its tracks, perhaps never to be realized as it was envisioned.

The article goes on to point out the reasons for the Miami project’s success: a demonstrable need for such a center in the community, public support for the project both in votes and with financial contributions, and strong resident companies. It mentions, in passing, the overbudgetedness aspect and the unfortunate folding of the Florida Philharmonic. A pretty interesting read.

The cover cheerfully reproduces the the Miami center’s pre-construction mockup, which to the untrained eye looks like an aerial photograph of the center, downtown in the background. Of course the photo is a mockup, and the center as it appears in it is a computer rendering (although at least a rendering of actual plans—as far as I know, the parking garage seen on the right side of the image is a pure fantasy).

Speaking of parking, I recommended in that article going for the $20 valet parking rather then the distant $15 self-parking. Well, according to last week’s Miami Today, there is no valet company in place.

“I would like to say for the record that the scope of services in this agreement does not include valet parking,” said Jami Reyes, chairwoman of the [Miami Parking Authority]. She said the authority does not want to be part of “negative publicity if something goes wrong” with valet services at the center.

This suggests that MPA doesn’t believe it can provide valet services for $20. It also sets the center up for hiring another provider, for more then $20 per car, and having to make up the difference, since they’ve already promised their patrons that price. Which suddenly makes their profit on regular parking (which is 0%) look not so bad.

The Herald has had a pair of articles in the last week about the Carnival Center. The first is a glimpse of the center’s first year budget, with predictable results:

The center’s first-year deficit is projected at $551,476. And planners had to use extra doses of county tax money and bigger bequests from private and corporate donors to get it down from a first-draft deficit of $2.7 million.

A second article delves into the unpredictability of the acoustics in projects like this until after they’re finished and tried out:

At Philadelphia’s $235 million Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, where the duo’s firm, Artec, created an acoustical system similar to Miami’s, classical music critics at its 2001 opening blasted its sound as ‘’lacking in warmth,’’ even ‘’an acoustical Sahara.’’ And even after three years of tinkering, Artec wrote a report in 2004 recommending major, expensive changes to the acoustics of Kimmell’s Verizon Hall. Johnson and Nakajima promise Miami won’t encore Kimmel’s song.

Pretty funny, but it sounds like the Artec learned from the mistakes they made in Philly, and corrected them on our design. Concert hall acoustics is a fascinating, and endlessly complicated topic. More here, here, and here.

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Wednesday July 26, 2006

What's up with the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts website?

When Miami Performing Arts Center announced they were changing their name to Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, they had a new web site ready to go, and it was up and running the same day. Let’s take a look.

The Center’s previous website [screengrab] was certainly due for an overhaul, what with its undistinguished home page and clunky menu system. The new site ditches all of that for an almost all-Flash design. Now, you can on and on reading good explanations of why Flash is bad (and please do). But for starters, let’s just take a look at what the user sees when they load up the site:

internet explorer
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This is what I got in Internet Explorer. IE has a recently added quirk wherein you have to click on any flash animation before you can use it. This causes some of the content to not display, and some to display but be unusable until you click. Since there are four distinct Flash animations on the home page (!), that’s a lot of clicking. In Firefox, the situation is different. If you have flash installed, the site loads normally (albeit slowly), unless, like me, you have flashblock installed, in which case you get this:

internet explorer
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Oops! But nevermind; unless you’re one of the unfortunate who don’t have Flash installed at all, sooner or later you get to the actual site, which looks like this:

internet explorer
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We get a main-window animation with all sorts of faces. Clicking on someone’s face lets you order tickets for their show, right? Wrong: it takes you to an all-text listing of all shows. You search for the name associated with the face you just clicked, then you can buy tickets. Three boxes along the right give you more information (like about parking) in hilariously minuscule type. But you can increase the font size in your browser if your eyes aren’t so good anymore, right? Wrong: this is Flash, remember? That type is staying that size. At the top we get a banner with a little slide-show, and underneath that the main menu. Ah . . . the menu. The glorious little menu.

Well, I sat a couple of people down with this menu and watched them try to use it (apparently nobody at Carnival Center thought of doing that before unleashing it on an unsuspecting world). It invariably gave them fits. Each position on the menu opens a little horizontal submenu underneath. But as you go to click on one of these submenu items, if you brush past one of the buttons on the main menu, the submenu changes. Go ahead and try it! Pretend you want to volunteer! Go to the site, activate the menu, hover over “Membership & Support,” and try to click on “Volunteer.” See what I mean?

Most of the interior pages are just ported from the old site, and are unremarkable except for that funny menu you have to keep dealing with. (There must be multiple versions of this menu, too, because sometimes clicking “Home” took me home, sometimes it did nothing.)

What’s amazing is that it’s not that difficult to do this right. Miami Light Project, a Carnival Center “arts partner,” has a perfectly hip and very usable web site. The Lincoln Center, which MPAC has spent a lot of time comparing itself to, has a silly (but skipable) Flash intro followed by a Flash-free and relatively usable regular site (with a text-only version). The LA Performing Arts Center has a . . . well, you get the idea. I wonder what happened. Does the new Carnival site work for you? Let me know in the comments, and let me know what browser and version you’re using.

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Wednesday July 19, 2006

It’s official: Miami Performing Arts Center is now the Carnival Performing Arts Center. They transfered their name from the concert hall and ponied up an additional $10 million (for a total of 20 mill) for the name. Knight Foundation kicked in another $10 million and now we have the John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall. Not bad for a day’s work. Update: Hey look, there’s a new web site.

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Friday July 7, 2006

Parking at Miami Performing Arts Center has a PL4n!

parking garage 2-4 blocks, lots 1-3 blocks away

OK, folks, the plan is here: 1697 parking spaces on four lots and one garage (plus 751 valet spaces), all within “one- to three-block radius” um, no sorry, I’m looking at your little graphic (shown actual size; I guess we don’t need to see whatever that legend is), and the far end of the garage looks a little farther out then three blocks. But let’s be serious: you don’t walk ‘as the crow flies’ when you’re going to the opera: you have to stick to the sidewalks. I had a little extra time, so I imported a Google Maps image into Illustrator, and traced out a walking route from somewhere at the far end of the garage to the entrance of the opera house:

walking from garage to mpac

Then I straightened out the route and compared it to the legend. As sketched, it’s 2,496 feet, or just shy of a half mile. No big deal on a nice day, but try it dressed up on a muggy October Miami evening. I actually suggest the valet, which at $20 is only $5 more then the spot in the garage; standing around in the hot air is preferable to schleping a half mile. By the way, Here’s a link to MPAC’s flash-based parking widget. Personally, it doesn’t quite work in IE or Firefox for me, but others may have better luck.

For extra fun, let’s count the ways in which the Herald article blows it:

  1. Swallows the “three blocks” crap hook, line, and sinker—right out of the gate (metaphor whiplash, sorry).
  2. “announced this week that they have secured about 2,500 valet and self-park spaces” Opportunity missed to break out a calculator: it’s actually 2,448 spaces
  3. “a sell-out crowd at the center, which has a capacity of 4,820” Let’s not bother to point out that that means 1.97 seats for every parking space.
  4. “Center leaders acknowledged the need for nearby parking garages more than 10 years ago while planning the state-of-the-art center, which is $102.1 million over budget at $446.3 million.” Good enough, though the original budget was $255 million, which puts the current total more like $191 million over budget.
  5. “Though the center will miss the opportunity to profit from parking fees from its own garages, Hardy said the new plan won’t burden the budget, either.” I guess you can’t “LOL”s in a newspaper article, so we’ll let this one go.
  6. “The Performing Arts Center is likely to be completed in early August.” Wrong.

Update: Another Herald article offers a dry look at MPAC prices.

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Thursday June 22, 2006

So . . . will the Miami Performing Arts Center be finished on August 4th? Nope: “The Miami Performing Arts Center is on schedule for its Oct. 5 grand opening, but workers will be putting finishing touches on the complex until the end of the year.”

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Wednesday June 21, 2006

Transit Man has a pretty great rant about parking around MPAC. I think his point is that there’s public transportation around, so less emphasis should be paid to a parking shortage. To which I say: more power to you! On the other hand, opera fans are older, well-dressed people. I find it difficult to picture 2,200 of them riding the rails to get to the theater. But overall the point is well taken. (p.s. The site design still needs some work. Can we have some margins between the text and the edges of the column? And can we not have a “MORE>>” link with each article witch doesn’t take you to anything more?)

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Sunday June 18, 2006

Lawrence A. Johnson reports that members of the defunct Florida Philharmonic Orchestra are miffed about the Cleveland Orchestra’s 10-year deal with MPAC. Seems they believe that the deal will make it more difficult to reform a professional orchestra of our own.

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Thursday May 11, 2006

It would be just another in a long series of articles on Miami Performing Arts Center’s overbudgetness, but this one is allowing comments, and they’re flying.

A quote from the article (attributed to George Burgess): “Due to several unforeseen events, the project’s schedule sustained significant slippage in the last half of 2005 to place the completion date of Aug. 4, 2006 in jeopardy if aggressive action had not been taken.” And my favorite: ”[Bill] Johnson said the exact amount of extra money won’t be known until the building is finished and all subcontractors’ claims are handled.”

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Wednesday May 3, 2006

Development and planning around MPAC

satellite view of Miami Performing Arts Center

Well, the Miami Performing Arts Center seems to be pulling its parking situation into shape nicely. Meanwhile, I have the recent Herald piece, Development blossoms around Performing Arts Center—with no plan in place, which is a criticism of a lack of urban planning (rather then the PAC), specifically singling out the unfinished Miami21 plan. Well, a public meeting to present a draft of the first quarter of the plan has just been announced. After the meeting (on May 13), the draft will be available online, and a series of open houses will begin (presumably to allow the public to comment on the plan).

This will be interesting; we have the opportunity to create the city of the future here, and the Herald is quite pessimistic:

[Development] is occurring with no comprehensive development plan in place. Even as the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency . . . spent three years and $716,000 preparing a 250-page master plan for the area, the City Commission has approved one massive project after another, rendering moot some sections of the CRA’s plan before it was ready. The city’s vaunted new, neighborhood-friendly development rule book, Miami 21, is months behind schedule and may not be in place until fall. Even some in the real estate business question whether stacks of high-priced condos—with few provisions for new parks, public spaces or other public amenities, much less affordable housing or a solution to the area’s persistent homeless problem—are what the MPAC district really needs amid signs of a possible condo glut.

Gee, when you put it like that, it sounds kind of crappy. Something tells me, though, that Miami21 will restore that green space, and that the MPAC district will become pedestrian-friendly and appealing. And with the impeding condo crash, it will, for a time at least, even be affordable. Hipsters all over South Florida are saving their money and biding their time. Meanwhile, look at that map – it turns out that MPAC was surrounded by parking lots and garages all along—check out the picture. How did we ever get into conversations about putting parking underground?

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Friday April 28, 2006

A childrens' weekend

kid with horn

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Friday April 14, 2006

Oh, look: the Miami Performing Arts Center just announced its opening weekend. It’s in October, not August.

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