O, Miami: How a festival infused a city with poetry
An in-depth report on the inaugural festival.

PART 1

Setting the Scene for
Miami’s Arts Explosion

“There’s a line from James Joyce which always stays with me,” explains Alberto Ibargüen, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It’s a snippet he reminds himself of whenever a sea of incoming data and policy papers begins to blur Knight’s central mission of promoting “informed and engaged” communities.

“Yes, the newspapers were right: Snow was general that day in Ireland,” Ibargüen recites, quoting from Joyce’s 1914 short story The Dead, in which a surprise blanket of white suddenly seems both otherworldly and as ubiquitous as the air itself. And the line’s present-day significance?

“I want people to say art was general in Miami.”

Ten years ago, such a wish would likely have inspired a round of snickers — not least from Miamians themselves. South Florida was internationally renowned for a host of dubious accomplishments — from surreal political scandals to a louche nightlife. But a thriving arts scene?

Indeed, for decades it seemed like Miami just couldn’t catch a break. Artists Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude certainly captured the public imagination for a moment in 1983 with their Surrounded Islands - encircling eleven Biscayne Bay islands with over six miles of hot-pink fabric. Yet that delightful rupture with reality was soon overshadowed by the return of Miami’s status as a city with one of the highest murder rates in the country: It was Scarface which symbolized Miami in the popular imagination, not free-thinking artistes.

In the nineties it was the renaissance of South Beach from an Art Deco slum into “Soho by the Sea,” which grabbed headlines. But amidst all the flashbulb-lit partying, it was hard to tell what truly meaningful cultural activities were unfolding. Meanwhile, across the Bay, a new wave of Cuban-exiles staked their own cultural claims on the city. But those efforts often became painfully entangled with political tensions over supposed affinities with the Castro regime across the Florida Straits.

That same two-steps-forward, one-step-back spirit held sway over Miami’s established cultural organizations. The Miami City Ballet and the New World Symphony both offered stellar performances, but also seemed like the city’s best kept secrets. True, the Miami Book Fair grew in size, scope, and stature — but its success only threw the surrounding terrain into stark relief: Tens of thousands turned out for the Book Fair each November, so where were these enthused intellectuals the rest of the year?

Within the visual arts community, the mood was particularly beleaguered. Despite some outstanding exhibitions, the two major museums — the Miami Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art — struggled to build permanent collections and faithful audiences. And regardless of their talent, artists found it nearly impossible to earn a living from their art. Instead, they were forced to either land teaching jobs or leave town for economically greener pastures.

Then in December 2002 came Art Basel Miami Beach, the sprawling American offshoot of its Swiss-based art fair parent, and an annual event which quickly became an essential visit for art aficionados around the globe.

In the decade since Basel’s arrival, Miami has evolved from an art world backwater into the “next” art city, surpassing Chicago as the most exciting hotbed between Los Angeles and New York.

Sparked by Basel’s spotlight, early supporters such as Paul and Estelle Berg, Irma and Norman Braman, Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz, Martin Margulies, Craig Robins, and Mera and Don Rubell, were all joined by an expanded base of global collectors — actively buying the work of emerging Miami artists while financially supporting the scene-at-large. These days, Miami artists are not only sinking roots — they’re being joined by New York transplants looking to kickstart their own careers.

However, as important as these newfound opportunities for artists are (not to mention the millions of dollars pumped into the city’s hotels, restaurants, and overall infrastructure come Basel-time), there have been equally monumental ripples beyond the art world. Miamians of all strata have begun looking at their city in an entirely new light — and they love what they see: A burg where creative ferment is the new normal.

“Art Basel acted as a fulcrum to grab people’s attention,” observes Campbell McGrath, a Miami Beach-based poet, MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant winner, and professor of English at Florida International University. “There’s this huge grass-roots energy now.” McGrath has watched several of his students attempt to harness and focus that energy — including P. Scott Cunningham.

A Boca Raton native, Cunningham says when he left for college in Connecticut in 1996, he had no intention of ever returning to South Florida: “I could never have lived in the Miami of 1996 — it felt so far away from everything.” When he returned in 2003, kicking and screaming, and only to accommodate his then-girlfriend’s career, he was amazed to see how drastically the post-Basel cultural landscape had shifted. “You want to be proud of things happening in your city,” he says — and what was unfolding in Miami was not only something he could take pride in, it was a milieu he wanted to be a part of. Cunningham’s romantic relationship only lasted a few months, but he decided to stick around.

After receiving his MFA from FIU in 2008, Cunningham launched his own poetry-focused faux-school, the University of Wynwood, which stages colorfully offbeat events in the geographic heart of Miami’s art scene, reflecting Cunningham’s desire to take contemporary poetry far from its academic comfort zone.

What he eventually envisioned moved dramatically beyond the University of Wynwood’s playfully unorthodox readings. Spurred on by a Knight Foundation arts grant, Cunningham brainstormed a project which would not only be a “world-class” event in itself, but transformational for Miami writ large. His idea? O, Miami — a poetry festival as wry in tone and all encompassing in scope as its very name, one which would attempt to, with a nod to Joyce, make poetry general throughout the city.

“O, Miami will change Miami’s attitude toward poetry,” Cunningham wrote in a Knight grant proposal.

“We will reposition poetry as an interdisciplinary field with relevance to mainstream culture. The project is crucial because the city, despite all the excellent work it’s done so far, still needs to shake its identity as a place where world-class cultural events don’t occur on a regular basis. By being at the forefront of this new event, Miami will take a leadership role in the poetry world, which will have a positive and reverberating effect on every aspect of our cultural life.”

A grandiose notion? Did the local literati — even sympathetic ones — really think Miami could grab the poetry world by the lapels of its tweed blazer and steer it in a fresh direction? Cunningham counters with a chuckle, “I can do things here that haven’t been done. It might be easier in Los Angeles or San Francisco — the audience and infrastructure would already be waiting for it. But it wouldn’t feel as exciting or necessary.”

Next: Building a Better Poetry Festival

This report on the O, Miami poetry festival is part of Knight Foundation’s Reporter Analysis Series. It was written by Brett Sokol, the arts editor at Ocean Drive magazine. His writing on Miami’s cultural scene has also appeared in The New York Times, New York Magazine and Slate. Judy J. Miller, who oversaw Pulitzer Prize winning coverage while serving as managing editor of The Miami Herald, edited the report. For more on Knight Foundation, visit knightfoundation.org, and for more on the festival, visit omiami.org.

O, Miami Events

Explore the events of O, Miami by location, date, and type.
4.1.2011
The festival’s opening ceremony.
Adrienne Arsht Center

1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
4.1.2011
Los Angeles’s Eating Our Words comes to Miami for a traditional Cuban pig roast accompanied by a poetry reading with Tracy K. Smith.
Boater’s Grill

1200 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne
4.1.2011
New Orleans-based poet Sunni Patterson performs.
Books & Books

265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables
4.2.2011
Abe’s Penny Live hosts an exhibition from four Miami photographers, with visitors writing personal responses to the work. Also featuring poetry readings by Denise Duhamel and Gabby Calvocoressi.
NWSA ArtSeen Gallery
2215 NW 2nd Ave., Miami
4.5.2011
Florida International University’s Creative Writing department’s reading series, featuring graduating MFA students.
Luna Star Cafe
775 NE 125th St., North Miami
4.6.2011
A special edition of the New World Symphony’s “Inside the Music” series, focusing on the nexus of poetry and art music.
New World Center Performance Hall
500 17th St., Miami Beach
4.6.2011
Oscar Fuentes and his jazz combo perform at a special O, Miami edition of HistoryMiami’s Wine Down Wednesdays party.graduating MFA students.
History Miami 
101
West Flagler St., Miami
4.7.2011
Poet Anne Carson reads from her latest book, Nox, accompanied by dancers from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
Moore Building

4040 NE 2nd Ave., Miami
4.8.2011
A second night of collaborations between poet Anne Carson and modern dancers.
Moore Building

4040 NE 2nd Ave., Miami
4.9.2011
Visitors explore Wynwood on foot and write poems about their experiences. Afterward, an online map of the routes taken (and poems written) is created 
by Billy Friebele.
Wynwood neighborhood of Miami
4.9.2011
Experimental performances combining poetry with performance.
NWSA ArtSeen Gallery

2215 NW 2nd Ave., Miami
4.9.2011
God Loves Poetry turn hate-speech into positive, funny, and often poignant poems.
Books & Books

265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables
4.10.2011
Phong Bui, publisher of the Brooklyn 
Rail, speaks on the topic of Diderot’s Selected Letters.
Lester’s Bar

2519 NW 2nd Ave., Miami
4.11.2011
Poems (on bio-degradable paper) are dropped from the sky.
Coral Gables

231 Santillane Ave.
4.11.2011
Poet Dennis Hinrichsen presents a 
talk on using the poetic line to engage 
the reader.
Bas Fisher Invitational

180 39th St., Miami
4.12.2011
Miami-based poets and translators 
read their works in Spanish, English,
and Portuguese.
NWSA ArtSeen Gallery
2215 NW 2nd Ave., Miami
4.13.2011
Dinner accompanied by poetry readings focusing on restaurants and food.
BLT Steak at the Betsy Hotel

1440 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach
4.13.2011
Artist Sam Winston gives a talk about his text-based works and process.
University of Miami Richter Library

1300 Memorial Drive, Coral Gables
4.13.2011
An evening of live music and Jewish-themed original poetry.
Next@19
Temple Israel
137 NE 19th St., Miam
4.14.2011
Liam Callanan, of Poetry Everywhere, and poet Campbell McGrath host an evening of video screenings, readings, and discussions dedicated to poetry in the public sphere.
Miami-Dade Public Library

101 West Flagler St., Miami
4.15.2011
Carol Todaro leads a group of local poets and artists in live performances.
ArtCenter/ South Florida
800 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach
4.16.2011
South Pointe Park
1 Washington Ave., Miami Beach
4.16.2011
Folgar and Lapin read onstage between rock bands performing at the Sweatstock music festival.
Sweat Records

5505 NE 2nd Ave, Miami
4.17.2011
A live performance from artist Eliza Bishop focusing on the natural landscape.
CasaLin

55 NW 30th St., Miami
4.19.2011
Local poets read from their newest books.
NWSA ArtSeen Gallery

2215 NW 2nd Ave., Miami
4.20.2011
Bi-lingual talk and reading with leading figures of the modern Buenos Aires poetry scene.
MoCA North Miami

770 NE 125th St., North Miami
4.21.2011
A celebration hosted by Miami’s chapter of the Florida State Poets Association.
Pinecrest Branch Library, 
5835 SW 111th St. & Pinecrest
4.21.2011
Poetry trailers screen while poet 
Abel Folgar reads.
O CINEMA
90
NW 29th St., Miami
4.22.2011
Poets from the Everglades National Park’s artists residency program read their work.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

10901 Old Cutler Rd., Coral Gables
4.22.2011
Miami Beach Cinematheque

1130 Washington Ave., Miami Beach
4.22.2011
Matthew Abess discusses the Wolfsonian’s exhibition and its relation 
to the language of everyday life.
The Wolfsonian-FIU

1001 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach
4.23.2011
Adrienne Arsht Center

1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
4.24.2011
Poets perform their own scripts 
to excerpts from famous films, TV 
episodes, and music videos.
The Dorsch Gallery

151 NW 24th St., Miami
4.26.2011
Local poets write poems in response to a photography exhibition; Raffa Jo performs.
NWSA ArtSeen Gallery

2215 NW 2nd Ave., Miami
4.27.2011
Bi-lingual poetry readings in Spanish 
and English.
New World Center

500 17th St., Miami Beach
4.28.2011
Poets and MCs share a reading of lyrics and poems, celebrating the nexus of poetry and rap.
New World Center

500 17th St., Miami Beach
4.28.2011
Celebrity judges rate local performers 
in a literary talent show.
Purdy Lounge

1811 Purdy Ave., Miami Beach
4.29.2011
Outdoor poetry performances with a live low-power radio broadcast.
Lincoln Park

500 17th St., Miami Beach
4.29.2011
Readings exploring the world of contemporary poetry.
New World Center

500 17th St., Miami Beach
4.29.2011
Spoken-word records are at the center 
of the night’s live musical mix.
Purdy Lounge

1811 Purdy Ave., Miami Beach
4.30.2011
A discussion and reading of poetry dealing with politically-inspired violence.
New World Center

500 17th St., Miami Beach
4.30.2011
Outdoor poetry performances with a live low-power radio broadcast.
Lincoln Park

500 17th St., Miami Beach
4.30.2011
A bi-lingual reading with the current U.S. Poet Laureate, W.S. Merwin and Mexican poet Carla Faesle
New World Center

500 17th St., Miami Beach

 



 



 



PART 3

Up In The Sky! It’s A Bird,
It’s A Plane, It’s Poetry!

The Ferrari said it all. If you were looking to make a dramatic statement that O, Miami was a very different kind of poetry festival — irreverent, playfully subversive, and not least, steeped in the often blindingly over-the-top spirit of South Florida — what better way than to put one of your featured poets behind the wheel of a gleaming red convertible Ferrari, hand him a bullhorn, and then have him literally proclaim his poems to the streets?

“I appreciate the typical wine-and-cheese poetry reading, but that’s so stale,” explains Dave Landsberger, the Ferrari-driving poet in question.

“Let the younger poets do younger, weirder things. Let the older poets do the more reverent things. There’s a place for both — and that’s why
O, Miami was such a success.”

Landsberger certainly did his part to make a splash for the festival’s April 2011 debut, drawing a crowd as he double-parked his rented Ferrari alongside Lincoln Road, reading out one of his own poems, but only allowing himself to bask briefly in the resulting applause — he spotted a curious police officer approaching. From there he roared up to an impromptu reading in the parking lot of a North Miami Beach Wal-Mart, and then back to the drive-through window of a Biscayne Boulevard fast-food restaurant — where he made a new poetry devotee out of a Checkers employee with a performance of Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” “Victory!” he laughs.

Though family commitments forced Landsberger, a 2010 MFA graduate of Florida International University, to return to his native Chicago, he is scheming for a way to relocate to the sub-tropics – and not just to escape the snow.

“You can go to Miami, participate in the arts community, and really feel like something is happening,” Landsberger says. “You don’t feel like something is happening in Chicago — it’s already happened. You’re just adding to it. But in Miami, you’re getting in on the ground floor.”

Indeed, helping to nurture a sense of city-wide creative ferment, a palpable feeling that “something is happening,” may be O, Miami’s greatest achievement in its first year.

Tellingly, for out-of-town correspondents trying to get a handle on O, Miami’s offbeat take on all things poetry, the city of Miami featured as prominently in their stories as any of the festival’s actual programming. Which, in the eyes of both festival director P. Scott Cunningham and the sponsoring Knight Foundation, is precisely the point.

“What O, Miami brought to the picture was the realization of Miami’s cultural promise,” explains Knight VP/Arts Dennis Scholl.

“The fact that it was so well received says as much about the evolution of Miami’s arts scene as it does about O, Miami itself.”

This is more than just cheerleading on the part of the city’s boosters. Mitchell Kaplan, who co-founded the Miami Book Fair in 1984, recalls all too well the distance traveled since then. In his own fair’s early days, he met constant resistance while trying to book top-notch writers. He was after Pulitzer-winners; New York publishers heard the word Miami and instead suggested Kaplan showcase their diet book authors and exercise gurus. “No one thought there was an audience for serious literature here,” he sighs.

Dispelling that intellectual skepticism — at home as well as in Manhattan — didn’t happen overnight. Which makes Kaplan all the more impressed by O, Miami’s out-of-the-gate high profile. The secret to South Florida success? “You’ve got to make it an event!” Kaplan insists.

To be sure, Cunningham took a cue from Art Basel, whose positioning as a spectacle draws countless folks who rarely set foot inside Miami’s art museums. Cunningham went for a similar approach, largely eschewing traditional lecture-hall readings, instead hosting an at-times bewildering schedule of forty-three one-time-only events and twenty-six ongoing projects which stretched across the month of April. It may have been too much of a good thing.

“We did too many events,” admits Cunningham. “We were worried about spreading events too thin, that most folks would only be able to go to one big one — which is actually what happened.” For the bi-annual festival’s second edition in April 2013, Cunningham still plans to keep the overall length at a month, “but heavy at the ends. Most of the middle of the month will be project-based. Any event, no matter how successful, is still reaching a few hundred at best. And then it’s gone. Whereas the projects had much more traction online.”

Case in point: Both Poetry Ferrari and Poetry Tags, in which Miami artist Agustina Woodgate secretly sewed short poems inside clothing still hanging on the racks at thrift stores, were hardly intended to sway mass audiences. They made most of their poetry converts one or two bystanders at a time. Yet those two projects subsequently garnered more national — and international — attention than all of O, Miami’s other events combined. Woodgate credits the subsequent attention, from viral videos to a glowing write-up in England’s influential Guardian daily newspaper, with changing her career.

“There’s nothing better than a well-read poem,” says Cunningham.

“Readings need to be the anchor of the month. But at the same time, we want to cultivate an audience for the projects and make poetry come alive.”

So, in preparing for the next O, Miami, what are the lessons learned? What worked well? What needs to be tweaked? With $175,000 in financial support from Knight for 2013, how can the festival get the most “bang” — programming-wise and promotionally — for its “buck”?

In his original Knight grant proposal, Cunningham wrote of hoping to “reposition poetry as an interdisciplinary field,” one that would inject itself into the heart of Miami’s arts arena. He’s certainly well on his way to achieving that aim — twenty of the festival’s forty-three events were joint ventures with local arts institutions, a mutually beneficial arrangement in which each partner brought new audiences to the other. “The cross-pollination was really good,” says Wolfsonian-FIU Museum Director Cathy Leff. “It’s a model of how you can get people to work together under a big umbrella.” The Wolfsonian’s lecture on the language of radical design, delivered by its own curator (and part-time poet) Matthew Abess, not only drew a full house of 110, it was pegged to a museum exhibit of Futurist and Constructivist poetry. “It allowed us to show the relevance of our collection and how it can relate to other arts,” says Leff.

An event with two avant-garde Argentine poets at the Museum of Contemporary Art met with a similarly warm reception from that museum’s then-associate curator Ruba Katrib, who foresees O, Miami becoming a “glue” between local arts organizations.

One poetry fusion Cunningham is particularly proud of was O, Miami’s modern dance performances — Nox and Stax, which featured New York’s Merce Cunningham Dance Company and the celebrated poet Anne Carson. Though the pair didn’t come cheap. Even with its Design District performance space donated by landlord Craig Robins, the two events still required Knight to add an additional $55,000 to its original 2011 festival grant of $250,000. With only ninety-three attendees at Nox and eighty at Stacks, that works out to quite a sizable cost per head.

“If you look at it that way, the numbers will never add up,” Cunningham says. “Unless you’re doing Broadway, dance is never going to be [cost-effective].” But he sees both Nox and Stax as being stellar in caliber, and a vital ingredient in — as he wrote in his original proposal — helping Miami “to shake its identity as a place where world class cultural events don’t occur on a regular basis.”

Accordingly, for 2013 Cunningham intends to push harder for his more thematically “difficult” programming. Only sixty-three people turned out for “Poetry and Violence,” what he deems O, Miami’s best reading, and one that moved the audience to tears as poets Brian Turner, Jill McDonough, and Raúl Zurita discussed their experiences, respectively, fighting in Iraq, working with death-row prisoners and surviving torture at the hands of the Pinochet regime in Chile. The subject matter may initially seem like a tough sell. But Miami is a city which, all too sadly, is intimately familiar with the legacy of political violence — as several generations of exiles from Latin America and the Caribbean can attest. With the right promotion, the event’s turnout should’ve been standing room-only, a judgment Cunningham agrees with.

“We need to believe in our own programming,” he says. “We were afraid it wouldn’t reach a larger audience, so we didn’t try to reach a larger audience. And so it didn’t.”

By contrast, Cunningham holds up the example of a special edition of the New World Symphony’s “Inside The Music” series, which explored the intersection of classical composition and poetry. Despite being held on a Tuesday night, 510 people attended, the largest crowd the symphony had ever seen for the series — a feat Cunningham attributes to the Symphony’s excellent in-house marketing. It’s a symbiosis which has continued: An April 2012 Symphony performance also featured the New York-based poet Malachi Black — brought to Miami for a reading and week-long residence by Cunningham’s University of Wynwood.

In further evidence of continuing partnerships, Black’s lodging was provided by South Beach’s Betsy Hotel. Owned by the son of acclaimed poet Hyam Plutzik, the Betsy has begun regularly holding public poetry events with Cunningham, offering a space on Ocean Drive that is (in keeping with O, Miami’s branding) anything but staid.

Of course, nothing helps marketing like the strategic deployment of a celebrity. Such was the thinking behind O, Miami’s booking of actor James Franco. On paper, it was an inspired move: Franco holds a unique position as an object of fascination to both Hollywood and the avant-garde precincts of the art world, simultaneously co-hosting the Academy Awards and filming his own experimental shorts, pursuing an MFA in art at Yale in between major studio movie shoots, and writing his own verse under the tutelage of one of poetry’s most respected names, Tony Hoagland. With his ability to titillate both the paparazzi and the literati, Franco’s Miami reading alongside Hoagland seemed tailor-made to the festival’s mission of enticing new crowds.

Alas, Franco’s plane was delayed by stormy weather, diverted to Orlando, and then further waylaid as airspace was shut down in Miami while President Obama flew in and out. By the time an exhausted Franco finally arrived, four hours past the event’s starting time, half the audience of 490 had left. In the meantime, O, Miami publicist Lisa Palley had been tasked with crowd control. It wasn’t pretty. “I had to deal with the mothers who brought their teenage daughters!” Palley laughs. “They were screaming at me!”

“It was a bummer,” Cunningham concedes, as well as a lesson in travel logistics. But despite the snafus, Cunningham says Hoagland made a host of new fans that night:

“I had so many people approach me afterwards and say ‘I’ve never read contemporary poetry, I only came because my girlfriend dragged me here to meet James Franco. But that was awesome!’ ”

The same dynamic played out online: As pro- and anti-Franco partisans dueled on Twitter and in newspaper article comments, the festival received a fresh wave of free publicity. The marketing take-away for 2013 is clear: Controversy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And even if they’re late and do little more than politely sign books, booking a celeb works wonders.

Of course, it’s not enough to merely grab an audience’s attention. O, Miami then has to physically steer them to its events. In that respect, festival advisor Tom Healy pointed to the fest’s “too clever and not all that useful” website as a “symptom” of confused messaging: Hoping to get a quick overview of the festival? Or even plot out a schedule more than a day in advance? Good luck with that online.

Likewise, the scattered nature of O, Miami often left casual fans of a single event wondering how to follow-up.

“Our narrative was like opening a box of chocolates. Even if you find one you like, you don’t know where you can find it again,” Healy says. “If people ask ‘Where is the festival?’ there needs to be a place they can just walk into.” He hopes that, just as the Miami Beach Convention Center serves as a week-long physical center for Art Basel, the New World Center and its outdoor park can act as a home base for O, Miami.

Moreover, as much as he enjoys the accidental discoveries behind the fest’s projects, “you have to prep for these experiences.” Otherwise, it’s the veritable tree falling in the forest, he says. Case in point, the poetry banner flown across the sky above South Beach: “I introduced the poet laureate that afternoon, and no one in the audience even knew about it — and these were the most poetry-oriented people imaginable!”

Still, for all his emphasis on outreach, Healy says the tail should never wag the dog: “It’s a question of popularity versus purpose.” In fact, Cunningham argues there’s a ceiling to just how broad O, Miami’s appeal can be — at least if it’s going to be “world class.” Romero Britto may be Miami’s top-selling artist, but don’t expect Art Basel’s organizers to ever allow his critically-dismissed paintings inside their fair. Likewise, for all the rhetorical appeal of O, Miami’s stated mission of introducing all of Miami-Dade’s 2.5 million residents to a poem, Cunningham’s populist vision has its limits. By enforcing an aesthetic line, he believes “attendees of cultural events such as the Book Fair and Art Basel will have a new event to mark on their calendars.”

Which begs the larger question: Can O, Miami eventually super-charge the city’s literary scene the way Art Basel has kick-started its art scene? Should we anticipate a crush of poetry fans corralled before a velvet rope, trading gossip on the latest mogul to commission a six-figure personalized stanza?

“You’re never going to get dozens of private jets flying into Miami for a poetry festival,” Cunningham scoffs. “That’s fine. That’s not where the value comes from.”

Besides, argues Borscht film festival director Lucas Leyva, comparisons to Art Basel — or any other festival — are off the mark. “So many previous cultural events were defined by Miami trying to be New York,” Leyva says. “This city has its own weird personality, and it needs to have events and institutions which match that.” A Kendall-native and filmmaker in his own right, Leyva may be a decade younger than Cunningham, but he shares the same excitement over Miami’s inchoate artistic ferment.

“A new generation of Miamians is defined by a sense of looking forward and building something. We don’t know what it is yet,” Leyva says, “but defining that new cultural identity is what excites so many people down here now.”

This report on the O, Miami poetry festival is part of Knight Foundation’s Reporter Analysis Series. It was written by Brett Sokol, the arts editor at Ocean Drive magazine. His writing on Miami’s cultural scene has also appeared in The New York Times, New York Magazine and Slate. Judy J. Miller, who oversaw Pulitzer Prize winning coverage while serving as managing editor of The Miami Herald, edited the report. For more on Knight Foundation, visit knightfoundation.org, and for more on the festival, visit omiami.org.