12 May JORGE AND DARLENE PÉREZ ON THE FAMILY’S NEW $1 MILLION ARTS PROGRAM

Only one generation ago, Miami was widely derided as a cultural wasteland. Now, the city has emerged as a dynamic, global hub for the arts.

Miami’s creative scene launched in an extraordinary burst of cultural energy in the 1980s. That decade saw the creation of the Miami City Ballet, New World Symphony, Center for the Fine Arts (now Pérez Art Museum Miami), Miami Book Fair International and Miami International Film Festival, to name a few. Both private and public community partners united to create the arts infrastructure that exploded in following 25 years, giving us the Adrienne Arsht Center, Art Basel Miami Beach, New World Center, South Dade Cultural Arts Center, and many others.

Critical among that group were philanthropic visionaries like Jorge M. Pérez and his family, who aimed to develop a world-class arts community in Miami-Dade County. As chairman and CEO of The Related Group, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, Jorge has been at the forefront of South Florida’s complex urban evolution for decades. He and his family have also been deeply involved in supporting Miami’s ongoing cultural renaissance, supporting programs like Miami International Film Festival’s Emerging Cuban Independent Film/Video Artists Program and the National Young Arts Foundation’s Residency in Visual Arts.

More recently, Jorge and his wife, Darlene, and their four children created The Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation at The Miami Foundation. Last year, the foundation granted $1.2 million to 20 local nonprofits, including eight arts organizations. For 2019, the family chose to deepen their arts and culture grantmaking by launching the Pérez CreARTE Grants Program, investing more than $1 million in Miami-Dade organizations across three focus areas: artist fellowships and residencies, spaces for creation and arts education and access.

I sat down with Jorge and Darlene to better-understand the family’s vision for their arts grantmaking, the types of organizations they seek to support and why they chose to use philanthropy to shape Miami’s evolving cultural landscape.

The Pérez CreARTE Grants Program will support three focus areas. Why did your family choose to make education and access, especially for young children, a priority?

Jorge: We see art as a part of everyday life and believe that exposing young people to it early on will help them succeed in whatever career they choose.

The arts have been important for me since high school when my mother took me to galleries and performances. Those experiences helped me to be more creative in my endeavors. When I was in college, I would go to the theater, movie houses and galleries in New York. The arts contributed tremendously to my creative and aesthetic side, which influenced the way I see my work. I have always been attentive to architecture and design, and I attribute that to the arts.

This program’s grants will also fund workspaces for creatives. Talk about what having affordable spaces for creatives means for the Miami arts community.   

Jorge: When I was on the Miami-Dade’s Cultural Affairs Council, we saw that, for many nonprofits involved in the arts, space to create, rehearse, perform and exhibit was in short supply. Making funds available for these activities is essential. These organizations need spaces to work, plan, make fundraising calls and have an office. Creatives also need a place to practice, rehearse and display their work before unveiling the final product. All these elements become vital for creating an artistic community in Miami that can reach all levels of society.

What kinds of organizations does your family hope to fund through the CreARTE Grants Program?

Darlene: The goal is to fund organizations positioned to create measurable and tangible impact in the community we love. Our family is very passionate about strengthening the arts ecosystem in Greater Miami, especially giving artists and youth the opportunities to embrace their passion and create art.

Jorge: When we invest a dollar in the arts or any philanthropy, we want that dollar to multiply. Scalability is a meaningful way that can happen. By funding programs that can become models for others to duplicate, our dollars benefit not just that one organization, but also all the others who will learn from it.

What types of approaches or initiatives would make an organization applying stand out?

Darlene: We seek organizations that take their work to a higher level. Our family values programs and initiatives that prioritize innovation, passion, creativity and collaboration.

Jorge: Another priority is that grant recipients provide maximum artistic exposure to the highest possible number of people. If a company produces dance, opera or theatre, the more we can help that group reach audiences that otherwise would not be seeing their performances, the more our program’s effect is multiplied. In this way, we will reach high school students and other targeted audiences, and those audiences will spread the word to others.

Talk about why your family believes this program’s three-part structure is well suited for Miami, and what led you to collaborate with The Miami Foundation to roll it out.

Jorge: Our family wants the money we invest in the arts, or philanthropy in general, to reach people and institutions where it will have a real impact. We believe funding these three areas – fellowships and residencies, access and education and spaces for creation – can do that. Identifying needs in the community takes research. The Miami Foundation team does this and helps us identify the most worthwhile organizations for us to invest our philanthropy in.

What is your family’s vision for this grants program to change the Miami arts and culture scene?

Jorge: Miami’s cultural scene is maturing. The difference between the artistic community five years ago and now is huge, and 20 years ago, it was a different planet. Take The Wynwood Stories by the Juggerknot Theatre Company, for example. This immersive production shows the evolution of Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood through the personal stories of its characters. Not only is this a creative way to help people understand Miami’s neighborhoods, but it is also an example of how the arts can be transformative. However, we need spaces for these events, and we need to develop audiences for them.

In Europe, there is tradition in the arts – the Vienna the Opera House is always packed solid, and students fill the standing room. Europe’s cultural scene developed over hundreds of years; by comparison, Miami is young and, for lower-income families, it is hard to think about going to a museum or performance or taking their children. We have to double our efforts to build audiences at every economic level. The way we hope to do this is by starting them young, helping everyone to appreciate and love the arts, and creating spaces where people can make, present and enjoy the highest quality visual and performing arts. That will make Miami the great city we want it to be.

For others wanting to include their children in charitable giving, tell us about why it is important to you that you involve your four children in the family’s philanthropy.

Darlene: Jorge and I have been very intentional about our engagement in the community. We both see the importance of philanthropy and giving back to the community we live in whether it’s our time, talent or treasure. Being able to share our values with our children, who are now giving back in their own way to causes they care about, is a great joy. Through the family foundation, we are establishing and building a lasting legacy of giving with our children and the generations to come.

The Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation is currently accepting pre-proposals for the Pérez CreARTE Grants Program. Pre-proposals are due by June 10, 2019. Click here to apply.

Susan Cumins is a freelancer writing about the arts and philanthropy in South Florida.

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2 Comments
  • Margaret ostrenko
    Posted at 02:05h, 17 May Reply

    Your questions were well-considered. Tempo and layout kept me reading.

  • Lowell Williams
    Posted at 12:04h, 17 May Reply

    Exciting! I am in a committee helping to prepare for the upcoming TCG conference to be held here in Miami. I live and worked as a theater in NYC prior to moving to Miami in 2002. Since then I have seen the Miami Arts, especially, theater activity increase. I hope to be a part of making Miami a city where people locally and worldwide will flock to a Miami as a Mecca of theater both big and small houses. I just saw a production of the Microtheater written and directed by a former student presented in a cargo container. It was outstanding and inspiring in this particular venue.

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