Healing Power

Standing out in Miami’s burgeoning and often glitzy art scene requires a dedicated vision. Art Center Wynwood (ACW)  has done so by combining exhibition programs for emerging artists with educational programs open to all audiences. It offers regular educational art programs for adults and children, as well as special-needs classes aimed at autistic kids.

That focus on the therapeutic power of art is no surprise considering the background of the two people who run the center: Ana Carolina Moreno, a Venezuelan-born architect, who set up the art center back in 2007; and Millie Pochet, born in Puerto Rico and raised in Miami, who joined the organization this year. Besides sharing a passion for art, both have a personal interest in art’s healing powers. Moreno supports special needs art instruction, and Pochet is a nurse. Moreno began doing art projects with her daughter and moved onto teaching special needs children before opening the center.  Pochet, for her part, sees ACW’s programs as “a perfect fit to connect art and nursing.”

Together. they have set ACW on what they describe as “a mission to help others” that transcends its exhibitions and classes. Like any other gallery, ACW maintains an active exhibition schedule. Its modern and contemporary artists, most of whom work in an abstract-expressionist style, are featured in monthly exhibitions in the heart of Miami’s gallery district.  Many of ACW’s artists hail from Florida and Latin America, among them Gonzalo Sanchez, who was born in Mexico and now lives in Miami; Xavier Portilla of Ecuador; Alejandro Plaza from Venezuela; telenovela star Pablo Azar as well as Guus Kemp from the Netherlands and Billy Monsalve-Duffo from Colombia.

An extended show will be up in November and December, which Moreno says will capture “the mood of Miami.” It coincides with Art Basel Miami Beach, arguably the biggest and most important art fair in the U.S.  During that time, when the international art world descends on the city, ACW will be participating for the second year in the Red Dot fair, located in the Wynwood gallery district along with many of the Basel satellite fairs.

In addition to its solo and group exhibitions in Miami, ACW showcases its artists at international art fairs in Asia, South America and Europe.  Last year alone, ACW artists were presented at the Seoul Open Art Fair, the Beijing Art Expo, Barranquillarte in Colombia and in a collective show in Paris and Belgium.  Moreno describes this as a way for the artists to “interact between cultures.” ACW also hosted a seminar on how Latin American art is presented and marketed in Europe and Asia.

As part of its educational outreach, ACW offers classes for adults and children at several South Florida venues.  Taught by professional artists, the classes cover a variety of media from painting and sculpture to photography, jewelry making and mosaics. The Center also offers a summer art camp for kids aged six and up, which has been cited for excellence by the Children’s Trust, Nickelodeon and Miami New Times. Moreno describes the integration of gallery and studios as “a constant flux and flow, where students are surrounded by art while they are creating it.”

At ACW-sponsored corporate art events, professional artists guide workshops where co-workers can spend time while also making art.  A similar approach underlies the monthly Happy Hours, which mix music, wine and art projects to introduce participants to the art world.

For all of its exhibitions and social events, however, what sets ACW apart from other Miami galleries is its educational programs. According to Moreno, it helps the participants find a purpose: “The classes empower the participants and makes them proud of themselves.” Another of its programs grew out of a request from Governmental Florida programs, which asked Moreno to develop art therapy programs to facilitate potentially careers.  ACW hosts an semi-annual workshop for 20-25 participants on how to provide artistic vocational training for low income individuals.

ACW supports Special Needs workshops but in the end, however, “special needs” is just a label that it circumvents even as it provides services to that audience. Moreno takes obvious pride in exhibiting work by those artists without calling attention to any perceived disability, focusing only on its quality.“It’s not about labels,” she says, “but the spirit with which they express themselves.”

Art Center Wynwood is located at 149 NW 36th Street, Miami FL 33127. For more information, visit www.artcenterwynwod.com.

 By John Coppola