We meet the founder of The Fountainhead to discuss how the city’s art scene is thriving outside of Art Basel
When a person is described as someone who ‘lives and breathes art’, few could compare as literally as Kathryn Mikesell. Although born in Pennsylvania, Mikesell has been based in Miami for the past two decades. In this time, the collector, advisor, and philanthropist has turned her family home into a live-in art gallery, filled to the brim with both local and international artists’ works – although sadly for us, nothing is for sale. “We have over 250 works just in our house,” she reveals.
The extent of her and her husband’s collection doesn’t end within the parameters of their walls but has overflowed into friends’ houses, as well as a house across the road, which she uses to host artist residencies in – approximately 30 to 40 each year – under her foundation, The Fountainhead, which was established in 2008. Alongside the residency programme, Mikesell was keen to provide affordable environments for local artists, and so she built 10,000 square feet of studios. The space has since grown to 25,000 square feet and currently houses 30 local artists.
Having originally worked in technology, Mikesell had never set foot in an art gallery until she met her husband, Dan. But it’s clear that her life is now fully immersed in it, and that Miami’s art scene is significantly better supported with her efforts.
It was while visiting Miami in June during LE Miami, that I met Mikesell. Having given us a personal tour of the city’s arts districts, she welcomed us into her home at the end of the day to talk about The Fountainhead, and to meet its then-resident artists, which included Devan Shimoyama. Back in London, we caught up over the phone to talk more about the city’s incredible art scene, and how there’s a lot more to it than Art Basel.
“It’s funny when artists come to the residency and say they’ve only been here during Basel, and I’m like, ‘Then you really haven't been to Miami’” – Kathryn Mikesell
How did you get into the art world and collecting?
Kathryn Mikesell: When we met, my husband had these two pieces of art. When we moved in together, we put them on the wall and I thought it’s really incredible to live with this work and the stories behind why he owns the work, and I wanted to look at getting more art. So we started looking around locally and getting involved. We were travelling a lot for work, my husband ran a company in Venezuela and I was on a project in Carlsbad, California, so we were actually only together on weekends. The art was like the glue; it was the thing we talked about because we didn’t want to talk about work. We would just go look at galleries and museums while we were together and share stories with each other. That's really how it grew.
Let’s talk about The Fountainhead Residency and the studios you have put in place. Why did you want to start those?
Kathryn Mikesell: It started with a passion for collecting art, and once we became more involved and we began to meet more artists, we realised it’s what we loved – getting to know the artist behind the work and why they made the work. It was also a time when Miami was really growing in terms of its art scene. Basel had been around for a couple of years, but the museums were still struggling for funding and non-for-profits were much the same, so we had the idea to do a residency. I was thinking one day that we could give back to the artists and we could get to know the artists ourselves. We could get all those people to Miami so they could imbue it with their energy, and their thoughts from around the world, and Miami could learn from that, and the artists could also learn about the real Miami.
It was really about our desire to give back to artists, to support the local art scenes and its growth, and to get more people involved the arts in a way that didn't feel walled off. The art world can feel very impenetrable at times and that's just not the art world I know. Just like most people’s Miami, during art fair week, is not the Miami I know.
This was a way of bringing people in, in a nice, comfortable, calm, embracing way. From an artist's perspective, we bring them here and tell them the only thing that they have to do while they're here is invest in themselves and their practice. This is about them and their time – however they need to utilise their time at this point in their career. We've had people that come solely to produce for a show and maybe not even a show here, but they just needed to remove themselves from everything that was happening in their daily routine and really focus on getting some work done. And then there’s those who want to come to Miami to research and open their minds, and walk around and find new inspiration. They've been producing for so long that they haven't had the time or the space to just explore.
Tell us a little how you work with local artists too – is that mostly through the studios?
Kathryn Mikesell: Yes. We also have a studio project that we started at the same time.
It provides very affordable and flexible studio space because, like the residency, we wanted to give artists a space to create if they wanted to. They're month-long leases even though we have people staying for years. If something changes, like their financial situation changes or they get an opportunity to go to a residency somewhere, within 30 days they could pack up and leave, and they don't have that financial pressure of a lease.
Like most major cities, gentrification and the development of Miami is a threat to artistic communities, where are the key communities now?
Kathryn Mikesell: The art communities keep moving. It was Miami Beach for a very long time in the 90s, then it moved into Wynwood, and now it’s moving north to the river, and west to Allapattah. It's just constantly moving. It would be great if there were areas where it could be more sustainable and more long-term.
I am interested to hear your thoughts on an interview I read from Gean Moreno, curator of programming at Miami’s ICA. He curated the Whitney Biennial in 2016, but didn’t include any Miami artists because he didn’t think they were engaging with issues in the same way that other artists from other places were. What do you think about that?
Kathryn Mikesell: I don’t want to address that quote. I would say that there's a very healthy art scene here, but yes, it is often one that gets overlooked during art fairs. One of the things I wish we had more of, is fostering more people to actually buy Miami-based artists’ work. That's part of supporting local artists, and one thing that we're still working on because Miami is a city built primarily of people coming from elsewhere, so it's a bit more challenging than some cities to get that local pride, but we definitely have a healthy art scene and it’s growing.
“The great thing about Miami is that it's the place where you can come and make a difference” – Kathryn Mikesell
Do you think it's fairly young or emerging?
Kathryn Mikesell: I wouldn't tell you it's young, but I would say that there are still tremendous opportunities for both (young and established). There's definitely opportunity and there is lots and lots and lots of room to grow. The great thing about Miami is that it's the place where you can come and make a difference, unlike any other cities. I really think there's just so much potential here.
It seems like a lot of the art crowd only come during Basel, which means they don’t really get to see the local scene. Do you agree?
Kathryn Mikesell: Basel time is beautiful and it's an amazing opportunity to see art from around the world, but it's really not the time to see Miami. You'll see a little bit, and you get to see the museums, but outside of the museums, there's perhaps one local day for the galleries. You're not going to get a really good sense of the actual scene because there's just too much going on.
I think that's true in most cities during the fairs though, even in New York. Most of the time you're at the fairs, and then there’s like 26 satellite fairs during Basel. Every brand is trying to do something and everybody outside of the art world is also trying to do a conference at that time. So there are people coming in and enjoying the festivities of Basel, of the art fair, but it's not Miami. It's funny when artists come to the residency and say they’ve only been here during Basel, and I'm like, ‘Then you really haven't been to Miami.’
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