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Can Bonnie Clearwater Integrate South Florida's Arts Scene?

Bonnie Clearwater

It's often said that South Florida's arts scene is dispersed with cultural pockets nestled miles apart. In a car, art lovers can drive to West Palm Beach's Norton Museum, and then head south 50 miles or so to Miami Wynwood.

But there is yet to be an institution that serves as the region's art world anchor, a venue to meld South Florida's cultural gap into a cohesive whole to attract residents from north and south, east and west.

Not until now perhaps.

Enter Bonnie Clearwater in her newly appointed role as director and chief curator at Nova Southeastern University's Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale.

Clearwater is a force in the art world with international acclaim as a curator and art historian. Locals might know her from Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami, where she spent 18 years as the the executive director and chief curator.

At MOCA, Clearwater developed solid educational programs and art exhibitions, bringing in emerging and international artists. In November 2012, the White House honored her work with the prestigious National Medal for Museum and Library Services.  

Credit Claudia H. Munoz

Leaving such a post behind was a difficult decision for Clearwater.

"I was proud of what we accomplished at MOCA, taking it from a small place and giving it an international profile," she says. "It was exciting to see what we accomplished in that time, because of the types of shows we did."

MOCA opened in 1996, and when the first Art Basel came to Miami in  2001, Clearwater was sure to position MOCA with attractions at the same time.

With her vast network of contacts, she's expected to bring wider appeal to the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, which is relatively unknown internationally. 

"One of the great things about moving 20 miles north is that I'm still engaged with the artists in the region," Clearwater says.

In terms of how she intends to integrate the Miami arts scene and the Palm Beach arts scene, she has already noticed a shift in the museum's attendance.

"We had an end -of-the-summer party at Museum of Art which got a lot of buzz and drew heavily people from Palm Beach and Miami. People who have never come to this museum learned through word of mouth about the party and came to visit. So we will make sure there is an awareness about all the unique programs and exhibitions that will make the Museum of Art a must-see," she says. 

Nova Southeastern University's Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale

While the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale had its art exhibition schedule in place prior to hiring Clearwater, attendees will have to wait until the fall of 2014 to see a curated show by Clearwater.

"There's a strong and solid season already in place that will set the stage for the future," Clearwater assures. When asked about what to expect, she hints, "It will be exciting and international, so everyone has to come and see."

Clearwater will work closely with the museum's academic department and intends to meld Nova Southeastern University's art department and the museum. So far she has launched a monthly talk series, beginning this month, in which faculty and the performing arts school will give lectures in conjunction with the museum's visual exhibitions that are already up.

And to engage college students with the arts, she has set up a social networking club called The Jets to meet on the last Saturday of every month during FAT Village artwalk. This club will host music, film and lectures for NSU and area college students. To build on popular artwalk, the museum will offer a shuttle service to and from the museum.

Clearwater became an artist at an early age claiming it was in her blood. Born in 1957 to a family of artists, she was ambitious and a fast learner. She skipped her senior year of high school and headed straight to study art history at New York University, and then completed her master's in modern and medieval art at Columbia University.

She served as a curator for the Rothko Foundation in New York City, and then moved to Los Angeles to work as the program director of the Lannan Foundation. She's published numerous art books. She moved to Miami to take the reigns at MOCA in 1994.

Up next at the museum is the avant-garde European visual art movement, Spirit Of Cobra, which will run from November 8 - May 19, 2o14.

Clearwater has a curated show at MOCA, Angel Without You featuring British artist Tracey Emin, opening up during Basel week on December 4. The show will run through March 9, 2014. 

Visit www.moafla.org, and www.mocanomi.org

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