Major construction projects in Broward County prove the arts are here to stay
By Holly Strawbridge
Across the nation, the arts are getting hit hard. NEA grants are on the chopping block (again), music and art programs are being axed by cash-strapped schools and paid attendance at concerts and museums is down.
So what are Broward arts organizations doing to survive? With the help of city governments, planners and foresighted boards of directors, organizations throughout the county are investing serious capital to reinforce their value and expand their public appeal. It's a gutsy move in these tough economic times, but one that promises enormous dividends: By building for the future, they send a clear message that the arts are here to stay.
Young At Art Museum and Broward County Reading Center: Learning through art
Each year for 20 years, Young At Art has provided innovative arts programs to an estimated 100,000 children of every socioeconomic level, including the homeless. Its unique approach to integrating math, science, social studies and language with hands-on art experiences is known for reviving the joy of learning. Families have responded by doubling enrollment in after-school art classes.
To better serve its expanding population, Young At Art has partnered with Broward County to construct a $21 million museum and reading center on State Route 84 at Flamingo Road. The 55,000-square-foot Young At Art Museum will house a permanent art collection, gallery space for traveling and student exhibits, a multimedia computer lab for animation and film work, a darkroom, theater and studios for drawing, painting, printmaking and ceramics. A Teen Center with video games, computers and a recording studio will ensure that Young At Art's 300 teen volunteers and their friends have a creative outlet all their own.
The 10,000-square-foot Broward County Reading Center will provide the staff with the resources they need to integrate art with other subjects.
“When the new Museum and Library open next spring, we will have the facilities to develop the next generation of patrons, advocates and supporters of the arts,” says Executive Director Mindy Shrago.
Museum of Discovery & Science: Making science education fun
South Florida's environment is the theme of the 34,000-square-foot EcoDiscovery Center being built at the Museum of Discovery & Science (MODS). Thanks to four outstanding campaign co-chairs and a supportive board, MODS has raised $25 million in just over three years to build the new wing and to refresh existing exhibits. The EcoDiscovery Center will more than double the exhibit space in the museum.
“This economy has made people and companies look more closely at where their money is going. If they are convinced something has value, they will open their wallets,” says Patrick Flynn, executive vice president of development. “We are so pleased that the business community, government agencies, private foundations and individuals see value in the museum's educational programs in science and the environment, especially for young people.”
Museum visitors will be able to take a virtual airboat ride and meet many of the animals that inhabit the River of Grass. Other displays will teach the science behind water management and hurricanes, and a live otter exhibit will keep visitors entertained for hours.
Four new classroom labs will triple the space for conducting science experiments. A new science theater equipped with the latest technology will enable students to participate in science lessons broadcast over the internet. Young children will learn scientific principles by crawling over large-scale, hands-on exhibits in an outdoor park.
MODS currently serves about 450,000 visitors a year, 90,000 of which are school children on field trips. When the EcoDiscovery Center opens later this year, Flynn expects museum attendance to increase by as much as 50 percent.
Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale: Enhancing a sense of community
Renovations, underway at the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, Nova Southeastern University (MOAFL), are designed to make the 25-year-old classic modernist building designed by noted American architect Edward Larrabee Barnes even more accessible and appealing. Spurred by the desire for a more serviceable entry for patrons with disabilities, MOAFL decided to make a variety of physical changes to perk up its curb appeal and reinforce the museum’s value as a meeting place.
“A museum can be many things to many people. We hope that the addition of our Books & Books store and Museum Café will encourage conversation and reinforce a sense of neighborhood. Our goal is to create an environment that invites people to come together to view art, read and hear music with others,” says Executive Director Irvin Lippman.
The multimillion dollar renovation includes a redesigned, landscaped entry that gives the museum a “sense of arrival.” The breezeway has been extended 60 feet toward Las Olas Boulevard to create a large “front porch” adorned with umbrellas, tables and chairs where people can relax, enjoy a snack, drink a glass of wine or listen to music while watching the fountains in Huizenga Plaza.
An innovative 30-foot tall lighted Museum of Art sign and three specially commissioned paintings on the exterior walls will give the building a new prominence as the cultural portal to the city.
South Side Cultural Arts Center: Building on our history
The voices of children rang in the halls of South Side School from 1921 until the 11,000-square-foot elementary school on South Andrews Avenue was retired in 1990. It lay vacant until 2004, when the City of Fort Lauderdale purchased the building from the School Board for $4.6 million and earmarked $3 million for restoration of the historic property. A cultural center was designed with exhibit space for local artists, historical display, art classrooms, a kitchen to teach cooking skills with catering facility, multi-use meeting space and more. A boundary-free playground was placed in the surrounding park for all visitors to enjoy. The renovations are expected to be completed by June.
On March 1, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission approved an agreement that will allow the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, Nova Southeastern University (MOAFL) to operate its arts and community programs at South Side, pending approval of the Broward County Commission. MOAFL hopes to be able to hold its summer arts program in the newly renovated center.
Lauderhill Performing Arts Center and Broward Central Park Branch Library: Arts for all
When the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center (PAC) and Broward Central Park Branch Library open in 2012, area residents will be able to see and participate in arts programs right in their own community. The $14 million project, located at 441 and Sunrise Boulevard, is the first of its kind serving central Broward Country.
“It's a perfect area for the arts. There are two performing arts magnet schools within a mile of this facility, so it's a natural place to foster the arts in our community and introduce new arts to many people,” says Lauderhill Assistant City Manager Desorae Giles-Smith.
The PAC, with its 1,200-seat theater, a lobby large enough to host events and a large multipurpose room, was conceived in 2005. Funding was provided by matching funds from the City of Lauderhill, a 1999 library bond and a county safe parks bond. The 10,000-square-foot full-service library, which replaces a smaller library at the Lauderhill Mall, will be operated by Broward County; the 37,000-square-foot PAC by the City of Lauderhill.
Young Circle ArtsPark and Amphitheater: Spotlighting the arts
What better way to draw attention to the arts than by making them center stage? That's what the City of Hollywood did by creating the ArtsPark at Young Circle. In 2007, galleries, classrooms and studios for artists and dancers were erected in the new park smack dab in the center of Hollywood. On any given evening, families can stroll by and watch a glassblower at work, a metal artist welding a sculpture or a painter working with oils or watercolors.
By June, ArtsPark visitors will be able to bring a blanket or lawn chair and attend a concert, dance or theater performance in the new amphitheater. The $5 million open-air theater, funded by Broward County and the City of Hollywood, will complete the ArtsPark, which was built as a regional park that everyone could enjoy.
"Some national touring acts may be ticketed, but most City of Hollywood-sponsored events will be free to the public," says ArtsPark and Cultural Affairs Administrator Mike Wharton.
South Florida Holocaust Museum: Affirming the value of life
South Florida’s Holocaust Documentation and Education Center opened its doors in 1980. Its founding president, Sister Trinita M. Flood, then president of Barry University, understood the universal value of teaching the horrible consequences of hatred and prejudice. The center spent its first 20 years on the North Campus of Florida International University amassing the world's largest collection of self-produced, standardized, oral histories of Holocaust survivors, liberators and rescuers while becoming renowned as an international academic resource for Holocaust scholars.
Over time, it became clear that a museum would enable the story and lessons of the Holocaust to reach a broader range of people. In 2004, with the help of the City of Hollywood and its Community Redevelopment Agency, the Center purchased a 78-year-old building in downtown Hollywood for $1.2 million. Excitement turned to dismay, however, when far more funds than expected were required to rehabilitate the historic structure. With the acquisition of a Holocaust rail car to serve as an anchor artifact, it became apparent the historic building alone would not suffice as a museum. It would, however, make an outstanding venue for traveling exhibitions to complement the museum's permanent collection.
Additional property adjacent to the historic building was purchased for the 21,000-square-foot museum, which will be the first Holocaust museum in North America to tell the story in English and Spanish. Its personal approach will enable visitors to access the story of any Holocaust survivor stored in the oral archives and to view artifacts donated by South Florida Holocaust survivors.
To date, more than $3.5 million has been spent in renovations, rental space for artifact storage and the acquisition of property for the new museum, which is projected to cost $16 million. According to Executive Vice President Rositta E. Kenigsberg, there is tremendous urgency to open the museum.
“We have the second largest population of Holocaust survivors in the U.S., and due to their advanced age and dwindling numbers, they are anxious to see the promise kept to preserve, protect and perpetuate the authentic memory of the Holocaust,” she says. “Reading about hate crimes, genocides and Holocaust denial, survivors don’t want their past to become our children’s future. They see this museum as playing a crucial role in teaching future generations the importance of standing up and speaking out, because every human life has value."
Riverwalk District Arts & Entertainment Public Realm Plan: Bringing life to Riverwalk
Along the New River − roughly between the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and U.S.1 − lies a jumbled collection of public and private areas. The City of Fort Lauderdale has created a plan for turning the entire district into an exciting downtown cultural and entertainment destination.
According to the Riverwalk District Arts & Entertainment Public Realm Plan, outdoor markets could be held in the Court House parking area, a festival park created at Huizenga Plaza, Smoker Family Park turned into a community and dog park, restaurants and cafes built under the Andrews Avenue bridge, a stage added to Esplanade Park and new uses found for the failed Las Olas Riverfront development.
“We envision a wide variety of historic, romantic, active, artistic and relaxing events taking place day and night year around,” says Jenni Morejon, principal planner in the City of Fort Lauderdale Planning and Zoning Department.
By creating an umbrella management structure to develop, maintain and landscape the diverse areas − and coordinate the vendors, events and activities held there − the Riverwalk District can become the envy of cities nationwide. The city is moving forward to determine the proper management structure. Once it is in place, securing funding for the necessary capital improvements can begin.
Pompano Beach Civic Campus: Promoting cultural diversity
The City of Pompano Beach is planning to open a civic campus that includes a Broward County Public Library with cultural space just east of City Hall. The city's Community Redevelopment Agency has allocated funds for a needs assessment to determine which culturally diverse activities might be held on the second floor of the 30,000-square-foot library. It also invites suggestions for a theater and other commercial projects to be developed on adjacent land.
Pompano Beach's Civic Campus and a revitalized Riverwalk might be years away, but some of the other projects will be open for enjoyment in the next few months. The breadth and depth of these projects is so impressive that the arts may overtake sunshine as Broward's main attraction or, better yet, let Broward become known as a place with both sand and culture.
“For this to be a good and vibrant community, you need both,” says MOAFL's Lippman.