The Arsht Center: A Cultural Cornerstone

Ziff Ballet Opera House Interior_ Photo by Benjamin Thacker

Like any capital city, Miami—sometimes dubbed the “capital of South America,” given its cemented importance to both the United States and neighbors south—understands the value of culture and the arts. At the center of it all stands the Cesar Pelli–designed Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, in the heart of downtown. Since its 2006 opening, the Arsht Center has emerged as a cultural world leader. Along with bringing global talents to Miami, it also helps launch local artists on the international stage (or eight flexible, state-of-the-art performance spaces, as the case may be).

The Center’s name honors the business leader and philanthropist whose lifelong passion for the arts made it all possible. Adrienne Arsht, a lawyer by training, moved in 1996 to Miami from Washington, D.C., to run her family-owned business, TotalBank. After expanding it from four to 14 locations with over $1.4 billion in assets, she sold it in 2007 to Banco Popular Español. Arsht, for one, believes that the arts matter. Her $30 million contribution to Miami’s performing arts center in 2008 secured its financial footing and ensured the cultural (and business) boom that followed. Beyond the merely financial, her belief in the arts and vision for the Center helped shape it as a model for other institutions across the country.

Here, Quest catches up with Arsht to talk about the upcoming anniversary of the cultural center that bears her name, and the state of the arts more generally:

DANIEL CAPPELLO: Why have you chosen to focus on performing arts centers as opposed to, say, individual companies?

ADRIENNE ARSHT: A performing arts complex offers an extraordinary value to a city. It brings the arts in their many forms to everyone of every generation and every interest. By supporting what I’ll call “the brand,” you permit a variety of performing arts entities to have their day in the sun or their moment on stage. When there’s a whole dance series, as there is in New York at City Center, there are companies you’ve never heard of that come. This allows for lesser-known companies that are terrific to be showcased, and it offers more variety to patrons.

DC: What impact has the Arsht Center had in Miami?

AA: The Arsht Center has played a key role in the resurgence and transformation of the immediate area, the city of Miami, and beyond. It’s the center of activity for people planning where they live. The apartments in the neighborhood are selling out quickly. Other businesses have bought land in the vicinity. Hotels are coming up in the neighborhood. It revitalized downtown Miami. It’s really become the town square.

From a cultural standpoint, the Arsht Center presents nearly 500 events each year. Our programming incorporates 12 signature series, including the largest jazz series in South Florida and the biggest flamenco festival on the East Coast. Our arts education program serves nearly 30,000 children each year. Since its inception, the Arsht Center has supported South Florida artists and the creation of new work. We are proud of the artistic relationships we have built with our community partners City Theatre, Peter London Global Dance Theater, and Zoetic Stage, just to name a few.

DC: Do you have a favorite art form in particular?

AA: I love musical theater. I made a $5 million gift to the Kennedy Center [in Washington, D.C.] to fund the Adrienne Arsht Musical Theater Series. Some of it is for Broadway shows that travel, and some for shows that we create at the Kennedy Center. It’s a form of music that I think is a significant part of our heritage, and I want to make sure that it is preserved for generations to come. Musical theater is a unique part of America’s cultural patrimony—it really doesn’t exist anywhere else. Such artists include Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart, Lerner and Loewe, Stephen Sondheim—that’s an American musical art form.

DC: How has Miami shaped the person you are today, and your endeavors?

AA: After selling TotalBank in 2007, I moved back to Washington, D.C. But it immediately became clear to me that there was a need to integrate the interests of Latin America with Europe and the United States to shape the global future and create a broad community of common values. In 2013, this became a reality with the creation of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council. This Center is dedicated to forging an effective Latin America–United States–Europe partnership of common values and shared interests. I am thrilled to spearhead an initiative that will embrace Latin America as an integral part of the transatlantic world and give this vibrant region the recognition it deserves.