The offices of Zyscovich Architects looks out on the sun flecked waters of Biscayne Bay. In the foreground is renewed Bayfront park and across the bay South Beach. Views of cultural venues like Museum Park and the Adrienne Arsht Center showcase the arts that are helping transform downtown. Miami native and award winning architect, Bernard Zyscovich, has had a vision and impact on the astounding growth of Miami and Miami Beach. Since founding the firm in 1977, he has led with a philosophy based on real urbanism. The firm tagline says it all “We Make People Places”. We met Bernard to talk about his longtime support of the arts and the role architecture and design play in a creative community.
ABC: What do you think makes a vibrant community and what role do the arts play?
BZ: A compelling community has many components including diversity, ethnicity, history, urbanism and creativity. What everyone can share regardless of language and background and what brings everyone together are the arts. The arts and culture are the glue. A strong arts scene creates economic value. Miami and South Beach are a draw because of the arts. In the 80s South Beach was not doing well. Lincoln Road was a ghost town. Artists and arts groups rented spaces and started doing performances, hosting exhibits and bringing people to the area. Restaurants and shops followed. The same is happening now in Wynwood and in Little Havana. The arts downtown have helped create an environment that is bringing people that want to live in the urban core where they can find art and entertainment opportunities everywhere. Plazas and open spaces in urban areas create space for cultural interactions. It all adds up to a dynamic and global city and arts play a big part in that.
ABC: What role does architecture play creating a community?
BZ: The redevelopment of Miami and Miami Beach has happened in the context of a tropical city. We have as much to do with Central and South America and Europe as we have with the rest of the United States. The interest in this community from locals and from those that come here is that we have a unique character. We don’t make widgets and manufacture things here. Perhaps in a very real way what we make here is art. That gives us a special identity that resonates internationally and in our own background.
I think that architecture is one of the arts. Architects not only respect and value the role of the arts but are also providers and creators. I went to school in New York at Pratt and as part of my education I spent a year in Venice Italy. One of the most important lessons I learned from that experience is that architecture is closely linked with stage set. Every space no matter how big or how small is filled with social interaction. There is a part of all of us that are like actors on a stage. Good architecture and design enhances that opportunity for people to interact with each other. We design many of our buildings with public spaces or plazas that enhance social interaction and allow people to connect in both an organic way and a planned way. We designed the Little Haiti Cultural Center, for example, as a showcase and the plaza has become a central destination for arts performances, festivals and programs. A compelling social space allows us to be more comfortable when we are interacting with each other. We all live in this theater we call life. Borrowing from an old quote “all the world is a stage and architects create the set”.
ABC: Tell us about some of your partnerships with the arts.
BZ: I was the board chair of Miami Design Preservation League for several years. As we talked earlier about the resurgence of the beach and downtown, MDPL played an important role in preserving our historically relevant buildings. The famed art deco district would not exist without the pioneers that started MDPL. MDPL puts on the renowned Art Deco Days each year which brings thousands of people to Ocean Drive to revel in all things art deco. We have many of our architects and professionals that shared their skills with arts groups through your Business Volunteers for the Arts program. We helped work with groups to make their venues handicapped accessible or to make their space work better in the context as performance space or exhibition space.
ABC: What do you value in partnerships?
BZ: Our firm values a certain amount of recognition. Any partnership we design has to fit our core mission of social betterment and enhancement of the community. My preference is to find groups with needs our firm can get involved with that are an extension of the expertise and services we have. We encourage our professionals to serve on nonprofit boards and to share their skills and time with groups they are passionate about.
ABC: Why is it important for corporations to support the arts?
BZ: Corporate involvement is more important relevant today than it ever was. We have a new generation coming into our work force. For millennials their work connection and work environment is really an important part of their overall life but it is just a segment. They also value time with friends, family and they enjoy participatory arts and meaningful community involvement. This is an evolutionary sea change in the corporate environment. Fifty years ago a professional started at a company and retired decades later at the same company. Professionals entering the workforce today will work for, on average, more than 5 companies. Therefore employee retention is invaluable. Getting involved on a board or volunteering in the community have been proven to enhance employee satisfaction. The top rated companies in the Best Places to Work surveys all have robust community outreach opportunities for their employees. All things being equal a professional would rather work for a company that is interested in community betterment.
Successful companies have a responsibility to the community where they are based. It’s not altruistic. Corporations receive value from the communities they work in and they need to give back to make it strong and vibrant. They need to support the arts and other community groups through not only financial contributions but by encouraging their executives and employees to share their skills, join boards and be active in things they are passionate about.
ABC: Tell us something awesome you are working on now.
BZ: I am passionate about Plan Z, a pro bono project we are working on to turn the Rickenbacker Causeway into a scenic park rather than the raceway it is now. Sometimes community involvement coincides with a social purpose. The recent death of a local cyclist and injuries to others have sparked widespread discussion about ways to slow down traffic and increase protection for cyclists and pedestrians on the causeway. The plan, supported by the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, would turn asphalt into scenic two lane road with park like trees and vegetation separating vehicle lanes from bike and pedestrian paths.
ABC: What is your personal involvement you have in the arts?
BZ: I go to cultural events. I am an avid consumer of the arts. When I was at Pratt in New York I was surrounded by the arts and immersed in culture on a daily basis. Through some of my personal relationships I have been intimately involved in the life of the artist and seen the frustrations and challenges they surmount and the lack of reward and recognition they often receive. I am distinguishing here from fine arts and applied arts like architects, designers and many types of creatives in the workforce that make a good living using their talents. Artists, on the other hand, face many challenges. People do not understand what it takes for a serious artist to devote themselves to their art. Frankly it takes a much higher level of commitment than somebody in the business world because their transaction is financial while an artist has a more emotional and personal transaction with their audience or consumers. When you have to put yourself out there and show the world the intimate inner workings of your own process that is a much greater personal commitment. I have a huge appreciation for professionals in the arts. And yet for me it is impossible to think of the world without art so we are lucky that so many talented artists are compelled and driven to create new work.
On a side note the arts community in Miami is lucky to have you, Laura and organizations like yours that are there to support artists and arts groups. We are fortunate people like Michael Spring and his colleagues at the Miami-Dade Department of Cultural Affairs are in our community. Your collective efforts provide the arts with services and partnerships with business they could not get on their own. I think it is a remarkable achievement that the Arts & Business Council is celebrating their 30th anniversary in 2015. The growth of the cultural community in the past three decades is related to the supportive structure you and your volunteers and programs have created.
About the Arts Biz Dialogue
The Arts & Business Council of Miami has developed a new blog to focus on corporate leaders that support the arts. The interactive exchange of ideas will provide us with insight on successful corporate partnerships. Each conversation will be featured on our ArtsBizBlog. Stay tuned for more interesting interviews and get the inside scoop on why some of South Florida’s top corporate leaders collaborate with the arts. For information on the Arts & Business Council and to see past blog entries visit www.ArtsBizMiami.org or call us at 305-326-1011.