Miami's Vizcaya seeks public donations - InfoNews

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Miami's Vizcaya seeks public donations

August 15, 2020 - 12:01 AM

MIAMI - The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens has been a meeting place for presidents, a monarch and a pope. But the Italianate villa and gardens have also been the backdrop for countless quinceañera and wedding portraits that grace many a Miami living room.

“A lot of people have this perception of Vizcaya as this exclusive place,” said Joel Hoffman, the museum’s executive director. “But it is and continues to be, a place for everyone.”

Construction at Vizcaya began in 1912, when Maine industrialist James Deering envisioned the bayfront estate as his winter home. Today the home and antique furnishings used for Deering’s lavish parties are preserved just as he left them. But now the museum is in trouble. It’s calling on the public to help keep it afloat through a COVID recovery fund launched Monday as the pandemic continues to ravage its budget. Donors can contribute via the museum website, vizcaya.org.

The cancellation of weddings and corporate events, married with a downturn in visitation, have led to about $3 million in lost revenue since March. With a 106-year-old building and 10 acres of gardens in need of continuous maintenance, Vizcaya is struggling to keep up with costs, Hoffman said.

Visitorship has plummeted to 25% of pre-COVID days, axing the $4.5 million that previously came from ticket sales to a fraction. In the 14 weeks the museum has been open since a two-month shutdown in March, it’s averaged 884 visitors per week — a dramatic decline from the 700 who visited daily last August.

An annual fundraising ball slated for the coming fall was cancelled for the first time since the 1950s. The 2021 edition of the annual March luncheon is up in the air. Last year, both events together raised close to $800,000. To survive, the estate has dipped into reserves.

Though Miami-Dade County has owned the estate since 1952, only about $2.5 million of its annual $12 million budget comes from the county. Maintaining the expansive gardens costs $1 million alone.

Help has come in the form of grants including $1.1 million from the federal Paycheck Protection Program that has allowed the museum to avoid layoffs despite cutting salaries and a $190,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Vizcaya is also among the more than 200 cultural institutions that will be eligible for $10 million in CARES Act funding that Miami-Dade County launched Wednesday to fund relief for the arts.

“Everybody is in the same predicament,” said Michael Spring, director of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs. “We have hundreds of organizations in this situation.”

The dollar amount that institutions receive will be calibrated along the lines of what institutions typically receive from the county. It’s unclear how much will be designated to Vizcaya.

Grants can be used for expenses including staffing and utilities costs as well as costs linked to establishing platforms for online programming.

“The trajectory for the arts community is going to be to downsize and then emerge rightsize,” Spring said.

At Vizcaya, this means the proposed budget for the coming fiscal year was reduced from $12.4 to $8.8 million. Cost-of-living increases have been eliminated. Salaries were reduced by 10% to 32%, and vacancies have been left open.

The museum is also slowing the pace of ambitious plans for the Vizcaya Village, which sits across from the estate and previously housed the Miami Science Museum. Preserving the space would allow the museum to offer programming that they couldn’t do inside the main property with its antique interiors. Classrooms and an urban garden now will be delayed.

“I can’t overemphasize our goal that Vizcaya be an inclusive resource that addresses issues relevant to our community,” Hoffman said.

From the stories of Bahamian immigrants who imported building techniques and helped construct the property to environmental and sustainability issues that affect the waterfront estate, Vizcaya’s relevance extends beyond the structure, Hoffman added.

In February Vizcaya hosted “A Rich and Forgotten History of Black Coconut Grove” as part of its Black Voices series of community discussions on the area’s early history. A past exhibition focused on the lives of the estate’s domestic workers — the butlers, maids and others who made Deering’s lavish lifestyle possible and who also called the estate home.

Beyond that, the site has long been a popular attraction. It’s where Pope John Paul II met with former President Ronald Reagan in 1987. It’s also where Queen Elizabeth II walked the grounds underneath a drizzle in 1991.

“It’s deeply embedded in the history of Miami,” Hoffman said.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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