For a long time, Laura Randall trekked daily from Palmetto Bay in South Dade to Wynwood, where she worked in an art museum. As she moved back and forth between the suburbs and the urban core, an idea for an art project took shape.
“There was sort of a disconnect between the way we engage with contemporary art in the urban center, versus the suburban neighborhoods on the drive home,” she said.
The concept crystallized when the Knight Foundation called for pitches for the Knight Arts Challenge. Alongside her friend Courtney Levine, she plotted an art exhibition called the Commuter Biennial, specifically aimed at people commuting by car, bus and train.
“The vision is really about both addressing how we live our lives – sort of traversing these pathways to and from suburban areas and the urban core – and also about democratizing access to contemporary art,” says Levine. “There’s this shlep component to get to an art exhibition, and even for us that work in the arts, that can be a small deterrent.”
Collaborating with artists, the Commuter Biennial has placed photographs by Terence Price II and Michelle Lisa Pollisaint on bus stops in Miami Gardens and South Miami Heights; helped Juan Alejandro Landaverde lay slabs of concrete into agricultural fields in Homestead and South Dade as a commentary on increasing development of the area; and placed psychedelic landscape images by T. Wheeler Castillo on public buses.
“I was looking for art that was in context with the surrounding area,” said Randall. “So I found a lot of areas that were ripe for artistic intervention – billboards, drainage areas that were wrapped around with fences, things like that.”
In Florida City and Hialeah Gardens, for instance, commuters can see a billboard that plays with the often sexualized nature of roadside advertising. The billboard, a work by artist duo Nice’n Easy, invites drivers to call 833-IM-EASY2 in order to “enhance” their “drive.”
“We all kind of project our own interpretation onto that as something that might be a little sexy,” says Levine. “When you call, you’re directed to a recorded message that is mindfulness meditation, mostly geared towards creating this mindfulness practice of driving in your car, calming your road rage, being present in the moment and reframing how we look at those moments of tension when we’re in our car.”
Artist Lily Martina Lee placed silent memorials in areas where unidentified dead bodies have been found in or near canals, which are often visible to commuters moving across the roadways. There are more than 220 of these cold cases across the county, she said.
Randall and Levine called the exhibit the Commuter Biennial, a reference to biennials and triennials meant to attract high-society art tourists to place like Venice, Istanbul and New York City.
“But that can be cost-prohibitive or time-prohibitive for people,” Levine said. “There’s an element of art tourism that exists here in Miami for Art Basel that happens on Miami Beach every year. But a lot of the focus is on people coming from elsewhere – art collectors.”
So the Commuter Biennial turns the concept of destination art on its head. Here, it’s not about the final destination for art, which is often in the urban core, but about the journey itself.
“This is really about people who spend their daily lives here,” said Levine.
The Commuter Biennial started in July and will run across Miami-Dade County through the end of October. In addition to the Knight Foundation, it received funding from Miami-Dade County and the State of Florida. Randall and Levine hope it continues to receive funding so they can do this again in 2021 – making it a true biennial exhibition.
Forthcoming works for this year’s showing include a truck bed converted into an aquatic garden by artist Virginia Overton. It will be installed this weekend at the Deering Estate in Palmetto Bay and will be on view through December 15th. A variety of activity is planned for the Blue Lagoon within view of traffic on the 836 Dolphin Expressway.
Painter Magnus Sodamin is currently painting migrating birds on a float within clear view of drivers on the 836, and a floating sculpture by David Brooks will be installed in the Blue Lagoon starting October 10.th Randall says the body of water was selected because it’s the “antithesis” of Biscayne Bay and Miami Beach, places that have preexisting reputations for public art.
“It’s this massive body of water and everyone sees it on the 836, and no one really uses it,” says Randall. “We have very good public art in Miami, but for me the goal was to have art in unexpected places.”