North Miami's Superhot Art Scene Spurs Neighborhood

The Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami has put the city -- fourth largest in Florida's Miami-Dade County -- on the map. It's not just because of award-winning art but the progressive impact the site has made on the city since MOCA opened in 1996.

North Miami Councilman Scott Galvin, who is with the Junior Achievement organization, credits MOCA with bettering the city's reputation and bringing a sense of ownership to residents.

"Obviously it's affected the perception of North Miami," says Galvin, who grew up in North Miami and represented the community for 10 years. "It's brought pride back to the area and shown the taxpayers this is something they can be proud of in their community."
Much of the impact is due to the efforts of Bonnie Clearwater, the museum's director and chief curator, whose programming has affected rentals and commercial real estate through the city, particularly its downtown. High-end furniture stores flocked there when space became available across the street, knowing that MOCA would attract those who would also be interested in their merchandise.

"When we were scouting spaces we jumped at the opportunity to be MOCA's next door neighbor," Gustavo Olivieri, owner of Gustavo Olivieri Antiques, told RentedSpaces. "Before moving to North Miami, we'd heard Bonnie refer to that corridor of antiques stores as '20th Century Row' and we knew that she would be a great ally in bringing new visitors to the area."

Clearwater takes it a step further by guiding museum patrons to the area stores, something witnessed by Clark Reynolds, owner and property manager of several commercial real estate parcels in North Miami since 2002.

"Bonnie takes people personally over to the stores, and that's the stamp of approval," Reynolds told RentedSpaces. "The antique dealers in the area are doing very well and upscale stores like these could not happen without MOCA's presence. There's lots of places they could have gone, but MOCA's prestige and authenticity gives the area the credibility these store owners are seeking."

Aside from the flourishing commercial real estate in the area, there are plenty of rental apartments nearby. Along 125th Street just west of the Museum there are 8-to-10-story buildings, and just a few blocks away, behind the museum, there are smaller, more quaint one-story 8-to-10-unit buildings with available rentals. A variety of well-kept duplexes are also for rent in nearby Biscayne Park.

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There's a definite synergy that's formed between the stores and the museum's cultural presence, something Clearwater works on maintaining through programming at MOCA. One example: a monthly, evening forum for designers and architects called "Time for Design."

Other programs include "Jazz at MOCA" on the last Friday evening of the month and the weekly "MOCA by Moonlight" on Wednesdays.

The museum's educational effort includes outreach to area elementary, middle and high schools, bringing art to kids who otherwise might not be exposed to it. MOCA is the essential partner with the North Miami School Districts' Museum and Communication Magnet programs for K-12. The program has been especially beneficial in improving student attendance, grades and graduation rates.

The future holds more promise with a full-fledged expansion that's moving forward, after the city approved a resolution to contract with Gwathmey Siegel & Associates for the architecture and engineering on the project. This means that the museum will double in size, triple its exhibition space and add an education wing. "This will make MOCA an even greater destination and provide more public access to contemporary art, education and public programs," Clearwater says.

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