About Miami’s Performing Arts Center

About Miami’s Performing Arts Center

Lord knows I have earnestly tried not to be among those who negatively comment on Miami’s Carnival Performing Arts Center and knit-pick at this, that, and the other. But there has been a great deal of complaining. And I have had kept my peace. Until now…

There has been a lot of complaining about the horrible parking situation that often causes concerts and operas to start as much as 45 minutes late. Those who make the effort to get there on time have to put up with the rudeness of the many latecomers, not to mention the endless and loud arguments between ushers and patrons.

There has been a lot of complaining from the orchestra musicians who are told to park several blocks away in a rock-strewn lot, with no security, and then expected to trek through no-man’s-land, dressed in long gowns or tuxes, carrying a horn or fiddle worth thousands of dollars.

There has been a lot of complaining about the many panhandlers that accost patrons as they try to get across a busy intersection, having just left their car parked in an unpaved parking lot, with a couple of elderly attendants working part time to look after their vehicle. And this only costs $15 or $20 a pop. Or you are told that you have to have a parking reservation.

There has been a lot of complaining about the ineptitude of the ushers at the PAC, who can’t seem to learn the seating layout.

There has been a lot of complaining about the poorly-marked aisles and steps in both the opera house and the concert hall. During the Rolando Villazón concert this past year, there were two accidents in one evening at the Knight Concert Hall. I was there that night.

There has been a lot of complaining about the very limited choice of restaurants at a walking distance from the center.

There has been some complaining about the lack of a decent café in either facility. In the studio theatre, where I saw King Lear, you couldn’t even get a cup of coffee to help you through Shakespeare’s longest tragedy. And the least said the better about those seats that will cause you to rush for the next available appointment with your chiropractor.

There has been some complaining about quite a few of the selections of performers presented by PAC. But then, you can’t please everybody. One event this season announced three Latin pop divas under the title (in Spanish) of Three Women with Balls. They quickly changed that. But there still was some complaining about it.

There has been complaining about the cramped lobbies in both facilities, with precious few lobby benches to sit on. There has been complaining about the questionable acoustics in the opera house, especially in the rear of the orchestra, under the overhang of the first balcony. There has been complaining about the ergonomically tortuous seats that force one to crank one’s neck when seated on one of the side sections of the concert hall.

Some have even complained about the glasses of champagne at $15 a pop.

But my biggest complaint is that I am deeply disappointed by the outcome of this 470 million-dollar project, underwritten, by and large, the tourist tax – not tax payer’s dollars – but dollars, nevertheless, some of which could have been allocated to any number of worthy projects in our community.

A front page article (http://www.miamiherald.com/460/story/47862.html) by Herald classical music critic Lawrence A. Johnson and reporter Daniel Chang, posted on the Herald’s website on March 21, titled “Miami arts center is $3 million in red,” and the facts that it details, point to a financial catastrophe-in-the-making. This is something that many have been predicting, and which could certainly be averted.

South Florida’s largest arts organization, top-heavy with staff, consultants, political clout, and plenty of community support, manages to make a mess of things barely one year out of the gate.

Our only large institutional regional theatre – the Coconut Grove Playhouse, and before it, the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, both met ignominious and premature demises. The Playhouse did so just last year – largely due to the ineptitude and callousness of their boards, and the general indifference of this community to anything resembling the home-grown. That scenario threatens to happen once more.

The list of mid-size and smaller arts organizations that have perished in this community through the indifference of our very few, very select, and not so very selective arts supporters is long and saddening. Twenty-five years in South Florida have proven to me again and again that Miami-Dade has a long way to go before it is ready for its close-up.

Miami-Dade and, to a great extent, South Florida at large has a voracious appetite for the glitzy, the latest, the New York based, and all that which is canonized elsewhere. In so doing, the community largely ignores extraordinary home-grown artists. And it evidences a deep level of insecurity.

Ask many a self-defined arts supporter in this community if he or she has heard of community jewels such as GableStage, Actor’s Playhouse, Maximum Dance Company, Momentum Dance Company, the Lowe Museum, the Bass Museum, the Miami Art Museum, the Contemporary Arts Museum, the Miami Light Project, the MDC Cultura del Lobo series, Seraphic Fire…The list can go on for a long time, as there are many arts organizations in this community. You will most likely get a vague “Yes, I think I have…” or, worse, a quizzical look.

As for the Herald article itself, there are items in it that could make you weep:

“Despite its artistic successes, Miami’s Carnival Center for the Performing Arts has rung up a $3 million deficit in the five months since it opened — a period when the center (emphasis mine) was expected to be only $150,000 in the red.”

Expected” did they say?

Expected” by a much-heralded A-team that had several years to map out their best laid plans of mice and men? Anyone that runs a small, medium, large, or huge arts organization of the presenting and/or the producing kind will assure you that you do not budget with the expectation to be 5% in the red. That’s low-balling it.

$3 million deficit for the first 3 months? How much red ink will that add up to by year’s end? Good luck.

You do not budget to have 4.99 million in ticket sales with the expectation that your “artistic successes” will put bottoms on seats, and then end up with a 2.2 million (-44%) shortfall. If you do, you need a reality check.

The article, again: “Hardy (Michael Hardy, the Center’s CEO) said that, ‘in hindsight, those centers (Broward, Palm Beach) should have been considered more closely. But the Carnival Center is larger, and its state-of-the-art acoustics and other amenities are more expensive to maintain than administrators expected,’ he said.”

That statement makes no sense to me.

The center has spent $175,000 on extra or off-duty cops, who only work during shows. Hardy again: ”We didn’t budget anything for that…Nobody told us we were going to have to pay for that…” Only a mere half a million per year, plus an additional $522,000 – compared with a budgeted $125,000 – for security… what now?

The budget posted in the Herald article shows that the administration of PAC had not budgeted for either parking services or stage hands. No stage hands? Perhaps they expect the audience members to troop on stage and change the set of Aida? Maybe they were expecting the Boy Scouts to provide security?

The sad outcome of all of this has yet to be seen.

Hardy attempts to placate concerns and allay our fears by assuring us that he “questions whether anyone could have accurately predicted the expense of running a center unlike any Miami has ever had…” and later he adds, in exquisite double-speak: “We said . . . to our board and to the county financial analysts . . . We’re not going to know what the building costs until we know what the building costs…”

But hope blooms eternal. Hardy assures us that, for next year, he will schedule less Carnival Center events and rent the halls to more commercial acts. Should we expect to be seeing more rock and pop concerts in our 470 million dollar jewel?


One Comment

  1. Barry Steinman
    Posted March 23, 2007 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Beautifully and articulatly astute observations made without the preverbial ax to grind. Thanks, Rafi, for making your thoughtful statements. Have you sent this to the Center’s cheerleading team at the Herald? There were a few Letters in this morning’s edition, but they were mostly caustic about the elected officials, Commissioners, statements of ill treatment during the opening ceremonies…just after they laid out a multi-million dollar co-sign for a loan to be paid by “promised donations.”
    Our own Miami Dade County Auditorium still holds its own relying on rentals ranging from small local empresarios (FundArte) to the unusal biggies in the community events (high school graduations, ballet school recitals) and continues to assist producers and presenters with an agressive granting program to make sure there is a quality mix of artists from around the world being seen by our audiences…at costs upwards to $35 for a front row seat! And you get free parking on site with over 600 parking spaces that are secured by a great team of City of Miami off-duty police.
    Yes, there is a bit of a moldy smell to the old “lady” and she needs a paint job and new carpeting; however, over the next three years we will be investing upwards to $1 million in technical and cosmetic upgrades to the theatre and are working feverishly to attract national touring groups to utilize this geographically centered facility in South Florida which will remain the premier house (though not the marbleiest or prettiest in the County. We have yet, in our 57 year history (which includes the world’s great orchestras, ballets, opera singers and local tapdancers)to seek funds from our parent company (Miami Dade County), but live on a bare bones balanced budget of $700,000 a year.
    Thanks for your comments. And your support of the arts and culture community of this County for so many many years.
    (If you wish to post this, you may, however it cannot be shared with the media or other sources without my permission…sorry, I’m still a bureaucrat in the game.)

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