A combination of culture and commerce along a four-mile stretch of open-door galleries and restaurants, Coral Gables Gallery Night – the pioneer of gallery walks in South Florida – is a prosperous event for the area, allowing people to unite in a synergy of food, drinks and art.
The event takes place on the first Friday each month between March and December and provides a shuttle service to participating venues. Gallery owner Dora Valdes-Fauli says she thinks the night is a great turnout and promotes “street life in Coral Gables, which usually doesn’t happen.”
Moreover, the event is especially significant because it lures people into the area.
“People go look at the art, and when they’re done, they may want to get a bite to eat, so they might venture into the neighborhood restaurants and help the city’s economy,” said Adriana Cordovi, a Miami Herald reporter.
Opening in the Gables for the first time in January 1991, Gallery Night has become a trendy event that has spread to several other parts of South Florida, such as in Little Havana, Lincoln Road and, most recently, in Wynwood and North Miami (NoMi). Inviting visitors to go door to door on the same evening to different galleries effectively exposes an area while showing art to more people. The event proved to be successful since attendance to the galleries increased and, consequently, more restaurants and galleries opened and joined the night.
Though some cynics argue that such well publicized gallery walks may appeal to the masses instead of engaging the individual appreciation of serious art connoisseurs, the event is nonetheless an occasion that can bring greater awareness to a certain community and satisfy a growing hunger to see art.
Virginia Miller, owner and director of ArtSpace/VM Galleries and director of the Coral Gables Gallery Association, was the first to initiate such an event. In the late 70s, when she was the chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee for the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, she organized a similar event with the galleries in existence at the time. However, from 1985 to 1990, ArtSpace was the only fine art gallery in Coral Gables.
“As galleries began to move again into the area, I suggested that we open on the same night to attract more people and raise the awareness of fine art in the community,” Miller said. “However, because the galleries were so spread out at the time, they did not think that an event such as this could be successful.”
Miller then went to the city of Coral Gables and persuaded them to sponsor their first trolley, to connect all the galleries along a one-mile route. Gables Gallery Night was born.
“I have been called ‘the mother of Gables Gallery Night’ because I have been shepherding its evolution for many years now,” she said.
In last May’s Gallery Night, ArtSpace, a 4,000-square-foot venue, attracted a crowd of 200-300 people. The gallery opened its current show titled “Abstractions.” It consisted of 39 paintings and sculptures by 11 different American, Latin American and European artists.
Miller explained that most galleries in the Gables specialize in Cuban or Latin American art. Her gallery, while also exhibiting works by Hispanic artists, regularly exposes contemporary and modern pieces in all media from other countries.
“Over the years, I have also specialized in introducing historically important artists, who were largely overlooked by the art establishment at the time, such as Richard Pousette-Dart, Alice Neel, Ramon Oviedo and Rover Thomas,” she said.
“Also,” she added, “this gallery has a bigger, unique setting that is different from the storefront spaces of the other galleries.”
Miller estimates that Gallery Night usually attracts 2,000 to 3,000 people throughout the district. She noted that most of the galleries here show well-established artists, who are represented in top museums and leading galleries around the world. Over 11 years, the area has been attractive for people to see and buy art. Galleries participating in the walk also included Elite Fine Art, Isidora Wilke, Inc, La Boheme Fine Art and the Americas Collection.
“Just as Miami is the gateway to Latin America, Coral Gables is the portal for Latin American art and is South Florida’s center for contemporary Latin American, North American, and European fine art,” Miller said. “In a one-mile by two-block area, it has one of this country’s largest concentrations of galleries showing Latin American art.”
Cordivi and Miller agree that the art communities in the area and around Miami are progressively growing. “Other areas in Greater Miami are beginning to attract galleries, which also adds to the cultural life and vitality of South Florida.”
An event like Gallery Nights, a still developing trend, can uphold the needed attention to maintain an art district in different communities in Miami by drawing in a broader audience.
“Arts need to be a very large part of a city with as much culture as Miami,” Cordovi said.
Soon enough, the arts communities in Miami may become leveled with the scenes in other booming cities, such as New York.
“We don’t have world-class museums like the MoMA or the Guggenheim,” said Cordovi, “but a community like Wynwood could possibly turn into SoHo in the next decade if enough artists unite to make a difference.”