Miami: Florida’s unexpected arts capital

Liana Lozada

Lifestyle and travel writer

Miami may be better known for its bright lights and beach life than high culture, but the Magic City houses so much in the way of the art and performance it can be hard to navigate. Explore the city’s effervescent cultural scene, district by district

Colour. It is the definitive characteristic of the Miami landscape: postcard neon marquees, cerulean waters and pink-and-peach sunsets. Vibrancy also defines the cultural spectrum, pulsing with Latin American, Caribbean and European influences compounded with rich Jewish, African American and LGBT histories. These diverse hues have seeped into Miami’s arts communities, giving life to a new era in the area’s prismatic personality. The city has become a breathing street art canvas, while dance, theatre and music mature inside its performance spaces and national art fairs catapult the careers of local artists – with each district making a distinct contribution to Miami’s cultural bounty.



The home of… eclectic live performance and interesting architecture

Start with a show at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, a local pillar playing host to nearly 500 events a year. Top picks include annual arrivals from world-renowned modern dance company Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the incredible Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía, straight out of Seville. For something a little more unusual, try the Micro Theater, where you can catch a bilingual mini-play inside a shipping container, or literary collective The Moth’s brilliantly engaging storytelling competition, StorySLAM, at the famous Olympia Theater.

Tour the town, kicking off with a Downtown architectural walking tour courtesy of the Miami Center for Architecture & Design. Then, drop into HistoryMiami, which offers excursions through Little Havana by foot, to the Design District by bike, and to Stiltsville (a hamlet of wooden shacks stood on stilts miles out to sea, once home to Miami’s wildest parties) by boat.

Wynwood and the Design District

Wynwood and the Design District

The homes of… street art, pop-ups and indie arts spaces

See street art all over the vibrant Wynwood Arts District – a once desolate warehouse area given a new lease of life as a walkable street art mural. Both this and the dazzling storeys-tall murals and installations in the neighbouring Design District are best explored slowly, on foot; tours are easily found.

Discover the best in art collecting at Wynwood juggernaut Rubell Family Collection, or drop by the non-profit Locust Projects for a lesson in experimental visual art.

Pop into a pop-up by checking out the Arts & Entertainment District’s programming. This threads Wynwood, the Design District and Downtown together, producing floating entertainment like silent discos, live music and yoga classes across all three areas. Make sure to check out The Wynwood Yard, too – an outdoor “pop-up entrepreneurial hub” bringing together exciting creative minds in food, drink and design.

Miami Beach

Miami Beach

The home of… exemplary Art Deco design and music

Admire the Art Deco architecture that flourished in Miami Beach with a guided tour from the Miami Design Preservation League – which also puts on the outstanding Art Deco Weekend every January. After your tour, stop by the historic Betsy hotel, which invests heavily in the arts, so do check out their live music listings, exhibitions, fashion events and writer’s residencies while you’re there.

Make the most of the musical maestros taught at the Frank Gehry-designed New World Center: an orchestral ‘finishing school’ for the country’s most gifted musicians. Some of their innovative public performances are broadcast on the building’s exterior WALLCAST, where you can enjoy symphonic sounds, for free, on the SoundScape Park lawn outside.

Little Havana, Little Haiti and Liberty City

Little Havana Little Haiti and Liberty City

The homes of… Caribbean and African-American music

Sample the heritage sounds of Miami’s thriving Hispanic, Afro-Caribbean and African-American communities, taking in Cuban rhythms at the Cubaocho Museum & Performing Arts Center or the exhilarating monthly Cuban street party, Viernes Culturales. In Little Haiti – where you’ll also find Miami’s leading indie record shop, Sweat Records – the monthly Big Night in Little Haiti is a wildly fun, free night of music, art, food and culture, while Liberty City’s African Heritage Cultural Arts Center holds concerts all month long.

Coconut Grove and Coral Gables

Coconut Grove and Coral Gables

The homes of… literary and theatrical treats

Brush up on your Shakespeare with help from Shakespeare Miami, who perform, free, in Coconut Grove’s Barnacle Park. Take a stroll around the Grove, Miami’s former bohemian enclave, which is returning to its hippie roots and makes for a pleasing wander. To its northwest, book lovers must also make the pilgrimage to Books & Books: Miami’s beloved independent bookstore.

Book a theatre ticket while you’re there; Coral Gables is a top spot to catch a play – either an off-Broadway musical at the Actors’ Playhouse, in the Miracle Theatre, or a Tony award-winner from the acclaimed GableStage theatre company, in the elegant Biltmore Hotel.

City-wide festivals and fairs

City-wide festivals and fairs

Spot the toast of the art world

 at Art Basel Miami Beach, the Americas’ premier art show, fast becoming an international highlight. Held in December, tens of thousands flock to town for it, and the satellite fairs, activities and pop-ups that complement it. Art also abounds at February’s Coconut Grove Arts Festival, a long-loved mixed media extravaganza.

Prowl Miami’s museums to your heart’s content in May, thanks to special events and discounts over Miami Museum Month.

Feed your inner bookworm at the lectures, discussion and readings of November’s Miami Book Fair, which culminates in a weekend street fair, or during April’s O, Miami Poetry Festival, which embeds words across town so “every single person in Miami-Dade [can] encounter a poem.”

When you’ve had your fill of culture vulturing, refuel at one of our favourite casual or fine dining restaurants in Miami.

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