The ArtSeen Gallery

By Fran Robbins

Every artist must start somewhere. We all admire the prodigy who can produce the Great American Painting at a young age, especially if there was minimal training, but that’s a rare occurrence. The vast majority of artists – from every field – need years of coaching to truly find their focus. It’s at this point, when young artists get serious about their work, that ArtSeen steps in.

The New World School of the Arts offers this gallery space as a way of guiding fresh, young talent and bringing it to the attention of both the public and fellow artists. Working in conjunction with the Miami-Dade Public School System, Miami-Dade College and the University of Florida, ArtSeen is also a combination high school/college that offers much needed space for student study and exhibitions.

“Wynwood was a good choice because so many of the galleries were opening up,” says Maggy Cuesta, the Dean of Visual Arts at NWSA, “and we felt that would bring the students close to working artists. Also, it would make the space available for exhibitions for 2nd Saturdays,” the hugely popular art walk that is open to the public. The gallery comprises 17,000 square feet of space in an industrial setting. It’s spread over two stories and boasts an upstairs area where twenty-four customizable student studios are located. There’s also one faculty studio on-site along with three alumni areas. Six more studios are downstairs, which are allocated to alumni and faculty. The rest of the venue is space dedicated to exhibitions.

An average of 600 to 700 patrons visit the ArtSeen spaces, talking to the students and considering the installations. Cuesta notes that 2nd Saturdays patrons truly represent the community. This brings up a concern that’s important to her: the need to keep the public engaged. “Visitors are typical to the Miami community. Very diverse. I do think so, because sometimes we’ve done a lot of work. Sometimes it becomes a lot of young people going through. It depends on the exhibition and the time of the evening, also. Very diverse.”

Exhibitions are by request, which are submitted in the form of a proposal. Students, alumni and faculty members can all make a proposal. If the space is available, it’s handed out. Students get preferential treatment during Art Basel, when only they can be given a space. The venue itself is costly, and funding remains a challenge, even with the help of anonymous sponsor helping to defray costs. In this regards, Cuesta cites future financing as the gallery’s biggest hurdle to come. “The Knight Foundation grant ran out last May,” she says. But all those one-time money contributions can be appreciated in the gallery’s results.

Only getting a foot in the door is a real challenge for students, and having professionals nearby, ready to guide, can mean the difference between a career that takes off and one that never pans out. Within easy reach of the venue are all manner of mentors, buyers, gallery owners and art critics. “What I think is really important is interaction, the ability of the students to interact with each other, to be there, to brainstorm, to collaborate. “I noticed with the class that we had, we have one class that had it for a full year and a half. Already they’ve graduated. Just the work – the size of the work, the scope of the work – and the way they related to each other as a graduating class was much more unified.” Not only are other students available to critique, but name artists are also on hand to lend guidance. Cuesta mentions conceptual artist Bert Rodriguez; performance artist Christy Gast, who works with sculpture, music and video; and gallery owner and manager Fred Snitzer, among others, as local artists who work with the students, often as faculty members.

The gallery can also function for different types of events and is open to other NWSA students, such as those studying music, dance and theater. Additionally, it offers performances and exhibitions, many of which are available to the public free of charge. “It’s open to people to come and give lectures and workshops. The faculty go there, the seniors, we always do the senior critiques in the space.”

The ArtSeen Gallery aids students with the projects that just might propel them into a professional career. Alumni use it to exhibit their own works and it doubles as an educational center by offering lectures and exhibitions for free. By engaging students, local artists and the public, ArtSeen is, in essence, showcasing Miami.

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