When Emile Milgrim left Miami for Oregon in 2003, she recalls a different kind of city.
“There weren’t a lot of people living in downtown Miami, Midtown, Little Haiti, North Miami, MiMo, whatever you want to call that stuff,” she says. “And then now there are, so it looks and sounds different.”
In 2011, the Miami-born musician and sound artist returned. The burgeoning of the city’s arts scene has informed her latest project – an improvised electronic music set made from the sounds of this year’s Art Days festival in downtown Miami.
Four years ago, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) created Art Days to showcase artists residing in downtown Miami. This year’s three-day event includes walking tours, art parties and live performances.
DDA Executive Director Alyce Robertson says Art Days promotes established as well as little-known artists. This year, DDA awarded 26 micro-grants worth up to $1,000 for artists to create their own Art Days events.
“[The purpose was] to try to see the Johnny Appleseed of the arts communities, some of the smaller artists who don’t get a chance to get into some of the bigger art events that happen in the wintertime in South Florida,” she says.
Milgrim, 32, won one of these micro-grants to fund her electronic music project. She says she plans to incorporate sounds from the weekend-long event with some she’s already collected.
Milgrim and fellow artist T. Wheeler Castillo have been recording sounds specific to downtown Miami. Milgrim says the most interesting sounds came from a trip to Museum Park, home of the Perez Art Museum and the new Miami Museum of Science. There, she recorded underwater sounds using waterproof microphones called hydrophones.
“So far, we’ve been sort of lucky to have the weird weather happening throughout the past few days,” Milgrim says.
During Art Days, Castillo will also be offering a walking tour about active listening. He says participants will be able to hear hydrophones submerged in the waters bordering the Perez Art Museum.
Castillo says Art Days is different from other major art events in Miami, namely Art Basel in December.
“It’s not just thinking about Miami,” he says. “It’s thinking about downtown Miami, those who are part of that conversation of how it changes and those who are living in that place.”
Fringe Projects, a component initiative of Art Days, also selected three well-known artists to create temporary public art pieces. Amanda Sanfilippo, Fringe curator, says artists are free to choose their own sites – a practice that’s not usually possible with more permanent public art projects.
“This fundamentally changes the character of the work,” she says. “The works are experimental. They evolve over time.”
This year’s Fringe projects vary in their lifespans from a few hours to a several weeks.
1. Miami-based artist Dara Friedman traced the history of the Tequesta Native Americans in Miami through live performances and a film.
2. David Brooks from New York took underwater photos of Brewster Reef (7.5 nautical miles off Museum Park) and brought them into view at Museum Park.
3. Nate Page from Los Angeles inserted a stretch limousine horizontally with the front fender facing the sky in downtown Miami.
Outside of Art Days, Castillo and Milgrim wear multiple hats.
Castillo, 35, gives public tours at the Perez Art Museum and leads private tours of local artists’ studios and private collections.
He also helps manage the Downtown Art House, the umbrella organization for several artist studios and four artist-led organizations: Bas Fisher Invitational, Dimensions Variable, Turn-Based Press (which Castillo is co-director) and TM Sisters. They’re all housed in the same building on Northeast 11th Street.
Milgrim manages Sweat Records, a record label; plays drums in the band Quarter Houses, and co-founded a music camp for girls.
The duo launched its most recent project in May. Castillo and Milgrim collaborated on an original record titled “Archival Feedback."
One side of the record is made of field recordings of South Florida sounds. On the other side, South Florida-based musicians respond to those sounds. Milgrim says that her shared personal history with Castillo inspired the development of “Archival Feedback.”
The two grew up together in Miami, left for Oregon around the same time, and then returned to Miami at almost the same time.
“So we have the same interpersonal history and friendship, and we decided to make this [“Archival Feedback”] work together,” Milgrim says.
The record also includes handmade prints since Castillo has a background in printmaking.
“One of the prime motivators in my work is to rethink this medium,” he says. “How can I use print to say something living in the 21st century?”
After Art Days, Castillo and Milgrim plan to continue working on “Archival Feedback.” Only this time, they’ll be heading to the Everglades for a month-long residency in February.
Milgrim didn’t give away many details about the project, but she says she and Castillo may build new “mechanisms” to record sound.
Downtown Art Days will take place Sept. 11-13. For more information, visit dwntwnartdays.com.