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It seemed a heady and impossible task to attempt in three months.

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We met our Miami-based fellows, themselves by way of Puerto Rico and Spain, at The Corner, a bar that would become its own institution for us in three months-time. The fellowship led to revelations that were either enlightening or full of apprehension and contradiction. At first, all gathered were on board with trying to parse and debate what it would mean to recalibrate an institution.

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As part of the fellowship, funded by ArtCenter South Florida, and co-organized with BUX Bureau for Cultural Strategiesour focus was on culture, institutions and art, reframed as rhetorical spaces being and yet to be claimed. Timeless questions! And we would inevitably need to navigate our own personal relationships to those institutions, acknowledging complicity and thinking through possible intervention.

The path to getting to such ambitious strategic insights was rocky. The non-Miami fellows lived in a surreal Twilight Zone-like building next to Club Space, mostly not-the-good-kind of techno rolling underground up to the rooms each night and deep into the mornings, rendering most sleepless.

But art and culture were already clearly playing important roles in the lives of Miamians, and with such vitality and force that such arguments seemed without teeth. What would it entail to make relationships that spoke to and valued local context?

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Did we even have the capacity? There were admittedly many complex realities to take in. The city emanated warmth, and wholeheartedly from many of the incredible people we encountered. Its pace was furious, driven by enterprise infernos.

The Miami fellows were easily the most serious of the group.

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This made sense and the whole residency gravitated around their energy, insight, deep knowledge, and expertise. The issues we were discussing in a white room were about their lives, their communities, their friends, and their families.

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And they were, of course, right. The residency structure and layout itself seemed to replicate the very issues about the art world we were there to discuss.

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And so the debates were knockdown dramatic. It became clear to us all that we were not equipped to handle these questions solely under the rubric of critical art talks or purely abstract inquiry, making more attractive maps and graphs and slide decks. It was not that Miami was hostile to such conversation, at all. To the contrary, the theory brought in felt insufficient for Miami.

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Voided abstract frameworks, in which the body is without history or politics, clashed with the realities of an American city that is both transnational and deeply local, with specific and essential histories, wrought by complex and violent, racialized socioeconomic dynamics, and institutions that play on and shape those very dynamics to their advantage. We had to understand these dynamics to make any kind of strategic insight work.

Gesturing at ideas without rooting them in locality seemed less and less productive.

It was evident, instead, that our ambitions would have to fit the particularity of context if we wanted any institutional critique to be legitimate. Non-Miamians had to acknowledge the transience of their roles, and the group, acknowledge that true relationships between like-minded thinkers across contexts, not to mention community partnerships, are developed over time. We did agree on one point. To be fair, we could see all the reasons why this happens a lot, in part because Miami is so familiar to so many. It, or rather its image and promise, has been sold to us globally so many times and in so many different forms.

Many people have been to this city in their minds. This itself reveals a paradigm of imagining specific cities in contemporary global capitalism in a way that describes both their peril and opportunity. And the reflections we gathered as a group were then not ever, solely, about Miami, but about creating institutional critique from and through our experience of Miami, of our time spent with people living here.

We began to understand how this could happen only in this city, and beautifully so, as the local context seemed built to sync with international ideas exchange and flux.

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It seemed essential to find some kind of common language and a project to work on, to give the experience some direction. One of the most enterprising fellows, Malose Malahlela, seeking to enhance his practice of getting to know grassroots artistic communities and collectives that thrived outside of bigger institutions, began to initiate site visits through his research.

He casually invited any interested fellows along to these sites.

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His project idea was infectious, as it spoke to the desperate need we had for a common investment. All of the fellows, in turns, visited several more cultural spaces across Miami and interviewed the directors and founders or key staff. We identified all these cultural spaces as either in opposition or in contrast to bigger artistic institutions from which hierarchical ecosystems emerged, to attempt to form a looser cultural map of the city.

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Another fellow, Nora Khan, proposed a collaborative writing program, out of an idea of creating some kind of collective language between the diverse fellows. The injunction was simple — the exquisite corpse, a technique used by Surrealists, a parlor game in which one person started with an idea on a piece of paper, or a doodle, and passed the piece around for each author to draw, add, or write on.

For a writing game, the hypothetical result would be strange, chance-driven, and direct responses to a prompt.

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It seemed like a possible way to recalibrate critique through collective writing, a way of thinking through collaboratively our experiences of visiting cultural spaces across the city. The projects began working in sync.

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The reports started out quite formal, then got looser and more associative as the residency drew to a close, and we moved into a final weekend with our closing faculty, Rachel Rosenfelt, founder of The New Inquiry. The fellows started to find productive intersections and reconnected with at least a few of the reasons we all had come to Miami.

Each was written by at least four people. Though not all fellows took part in the exercises, the collaborative writing process generated a huge body of material reporting and reflecting on multiple cultural spaces — including the Broadway Arts District in Liberty City, the Edge Zones Cultural Center, and the Borscht Corporation.

Excerpted below are parts of the reports written, hopefully situating many of the subjects of the residency, its challenges, and its many perspectives. On Youtube, you can find dozens of videos of Broadway, a civic leader and businessman, speaking to the local Miami City government councils, petitioning for funding, arguing for investment in one of the most stricken neighborhoods of the city. His name appears in several newspaper articles on how climate change is affecting the real estate map, elevated areas of the city that have been historically overlooked.

The neighborhood has found its time on screen this past year as the setting of Moonlight ; in the ride to the area, we passed a for the street Moonlight Way. Broadway described how the many murals — some by Serge Toussaint, a famous Haitian-American artist whose ature murals can be found all over Miami, others by local muralists — provide hope and beautify the space, giving residents a feeling of worth and investment. There were stunning murals for politicians and activists, others of famous singers.

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Over the course of four hours, Broadway led us slowly up and back down four blocks on Broadway Avenue. The story of building an arts district in Liberty City, he seemed to tell us, was really the very long story of larger systemic inequality, of municipal mismanagement intersecting with rapacious property development.

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It seemed that while art cannot claim to solve the deep social issues at play in the area, it can collectively demand a kind of revisionist history that erases tired narratives. We visited as artists, educators, writers, and deers from around the world, here in Miami on a residency that explores the role of art institutions in the 21st century.

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We also visited with varying levels of involvement in social activism and journalism, some with none, so thinking carefully about our position and approach for site visits felt vital. The visit with Broadway, in retrospect, felt like an important reveal of our individual lacks. It revealed important gaps in the residency program and its curriculum, which needed to be filled in with interviews with locals, with new relationships, and with more research that provided a counter to solipsistic discussions about the art market in a white room.

Local zeitgeist as a savage and invigorating explosion of repressed energies. Using a militaristic language imbued with a dangerous romanticism, Rene Ricard spills out his notion of the ideal artist. For a unique blend of poverty, trap, punk rock, drugs, arson, prostitutes, the dilapidated housing of Liberty City mixes in with the new mid-rise housing units as an adventurous avant-garde setting.

A brave new art scene is also a strategic urban arena that is positioned versus the city, financed by big capital, that wages its war of position against an impoverished and increasingly isolated local population.

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Broadway, what type of artist you want to have coming in? One that will use Liberty City as their portfolio, and then force you out, or the ones that can emerge from here and grow out?

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Artists in the city are being used as vectors for massive rent increases and widespread displacement. The trope of artist-as-gentrifier goes back much further in time. No doubt in many inner cities, but for now we have it good here. But what the crime and poor schools and high taxes in inner cities does is drive out the working class, all tax payers, and make matters worse. Most inner cities are not improving but getting worse. He commissions local artists to do murals and mosaic sculptures to beautify properties that are deteriorating all the way down Broadway Avenue.

He managed to make Broadway Avenue a free-trading zone so businesses can buy stock outside and be able to trade and sell to the community. His businesses are constantly fined, and he is harassed with code enforcement to limit the kinds of businesses that can operate there. When we met Broadway, I immediately realized he wants the camera, and he kind of knows how to perform within the frame. I tried to move my camera away so that he could talk with my friends less performatively, even if the visit was already a show of his.

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Instead, I tried to film the context that made him. The neighbors, the kids with loud portable speakers, the strongly-voiced, conservative, doomed opinions, the community art that has nothing to do with that in contemporary museums.

He directed me to take pictures of some work that he commissioned, proudly. Some neighbors asked to be on camera and have their opinions on tape. I nodded and tried to figure out whether I should take close-up or medium shot, as they spoke to the camera. They seemed to believe their opinions, no matter how emotional, were critically objective.

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They seemed to believe the lens would give them justice. I hesitated on the composition, as my immediate reactions to their utterances were definitely subjective and lacked context. And what goes into the frame, goes into the frame.

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The shots ended up showing my hesitations rather than their words. At his office, Broadway talked about the importance of art and his hope for the community. Naturally, some of us asked about Moonlight. He paused, then asked me to shut down my camera. I did.

He started to talk about the film [in terms we were asked to not repeat]. It took me weeks to chew on the undocumented speech. It was, counterintuitively, familiar and understandable to me.

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They all expressed an unleashed desire of freedom which carefully intertwined with the history of an oppressive society. The homosexuality, thus, became only a ifier, more than a substantial issue to be tackled.

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