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This New Department Of The City Of Miami Beach Is A Work Of Art. Literally.

Juan Matos
Courtesy of Department of Reflection
Sasha Wortzel and Archival Feedback perform inside the Department of Reflection

The newest department in the City of Miami Beach is something of a work of art. And, as such, you won't find it in in City Hall but rather closer to the arts. 

The Department of Reflection's current office is located in a circular building in front of The Bass art museum on Collins Avenue. When walking in, visitors are greeted by a floor mosaic made of a deconstructed disco ball, recalling the design found on the floor of the lobby in City Hall. Next to it, a collection of invasive plants masquerading as mundane office plants sit under a fluorescent ultraviolet light. 

“The entrance kind of sets the tone for what I hope a lot of the discussions and thoughts to be about within the Department of Reflection,” says artist Misael Soto, the brain behind the installation. “I want the Department to encourage people to question the narratives that we’ve been told throughout the years, the different stories and histories that in some cases are kind of taken for granted.”

Soto is an artist in residence within the city of Miami Beach, something that grants the space a certain air of legitimacy as a government space.  But the creation of the Department is “parafictional,” he says.

“It’s a fiction. It’s my invention and it’s what I consider the best way art can integrate with city government,” says Soto. He decided to start the new Department when he was considering how to create a work of art with his residency that could create actual change in the way the government works.

“And my answer to that was to claim my own Department and just, fake it till you make it,” he said.

Credit Courtesy of the Department of Reflection
Tom Scicluna presents a recently decommissioned City of Miami Beach submersible saltwater pumps as ready-made public sculpture. In the background is the Rotunda building, the temporary home for the Department of Reflection.

The office has hosted meetings of various City of Miami Beach departments. The one-room office is centered around a circular table. On the walls, archival photos of Miami Beach hang alongside contemporary photos made to look archival, along with collages and a mini-library of local history. On the weekends, the space has hosted art exhibitions, lectures and talks, many of which revolve around climate change, local history and politics.

But a core goal of the Department is to help city officials -- elected or unelected -- better reflect on the decisions that they make. As such, the space lives somewhere between a museum with its penchant for archiving and contemplation, and a therapist’s couch.

“Their job sometimes literally is to put out fires. They do a lot of reactionary work, and I’m not saying that in a judging way, it’s the nature of what they have to do sometimes,” says Soto of city officials. “What would help them every now and then is to look back, and do some inward soul searching every once in a while.”

The Department  opened its doors last month and has one more planned event, on October 26th, before it has to leave the building. But Soto says he plans to keep the Department operational in some way at least until the end of his residency in May of 2020.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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