Pin It
Joshua Aronson, Miami
Venus RootsPhotography Joshua Aronson

Five Miami creatives speak candidly on their visions for the city’s future

We meet a group of artists and creatives who know Miami inside out

Miami’s Art Week has officially been and gone, but that doesn’t mean the city stops. In fact, it’s what happens outside of those seven days which matter most. Often seen as a city in the shadows of major creative hubs such as New York and LA, Miami is fearlessly forging its own path. Away from the beach, there’s a lot more than hotel parties happening. From the drag performance scene to activist-artists pushing for awareness on issues that are affecting their communities, we meet five local artists who know the city inside out. Below, each sat down with photographer Joshua Aronson to talk about the past, present, and future of their Miami.


What do you do?

Aja Monet: I do many things but all of them have a similar foundation rooted in beauty and truth-telling. I seek to create a more just and honest life, and so, in any way I can practice creativity, I try to. I love gatherings and I love authentic spaces where people can really be their most free-selves, so anything that can help cultivate that. The way in which I often see the world is through the lens of a poet.

Can you talk about how Miami affects the work you make?

Aja Monet: Florida, in general, has a history of really deep indigenous African roots, even though a lot of people don’t talk about that. One of the first moments I really remember falling in love with Florida was reading Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Are Watching God.

My family’s Caribbean and I know that I didn’t really understand what that meant when I was growing up in New York. I had this concrete jungle mentality and then coming here, I was able to feel more grounded and connected to myself and to the earth, the water, the ocean. Understanding nature has been a meaningful part of my relationship with Miami. And thinking about climate gentrification and the sea levels rising in Miami, and the questions about what we’re doing to our environment.

You have to be creative and innovative to respond to the needs of a moment. And right now there’s a big need for us to pay attention to the safety of not just our well-being and ourselves but the planet. What we’re doing to the planet and what we do to each other is a reflection of what we do to the vibrancy and visa-versa.

I look forward to the calls to actions that come out of Miami to centre folks and get rooted in what’s really happening in the world.

“Dive into the genuine culture of a community and be an engaged witness. Don’t just come in with your own agenda but truly support locals” – Aja Monet

Do you feel that the creative scene is overlooked here, in comparison to cities such as New York?

Aja Monet: There’s always been art and there’s always been so much culture, so much diversity in Miami, and I always have to pay homage to the folks who have done that, who have broken the norms, who have added a new flavour, and given the country a different sound, given the world a different sound. Miami has a lot of nuance and beauty and just greatness happening. I just wonder if people have always given it that benefit of the doubt. The difference is right now, what I’m really kind of scared about, is that Art Basel is here and Art Basel is a real big colonial project. We love art, we want to see art, but I think art has been weaponised in Miami to no end. To be used to displace people, like beautify a neighbourhood, and then folks can’t afford to live there. It’s definitely a method of displacement that happens across the country, so it’s not just Miami. But it’s brutal in Miami. It’s like overnight, the way that the displacement happened, and there are no laws to protect tenants who are living in these conditions.

Last night we did The Eviction Show, and we’re trying to get people aware of the evictions that are happening here, and how people are being displaced. In order for you to even be able to contest your landlord, you have to be able to show that you owe them money that they’re claiming you owe. Let’s say I have mould, and my landlord hasn’t taken care of it, they can say I didn’t pay rent and so they’re kicking me out. They have the right to do that and then I, in order to even contest that have to prove that, I have that money to show up to the court and be heard. There are just all these little things that I’ve learned living here that I realise in New York and some other places we fought for and unionised.

Artists have a big role in waking people up to those things and getting people to pay attention to the truth, and getting people to understand the complexity of human life. There’s a responsibility for us to take advantage of all this attention that happens and all this tourist money that comes into Miami, and really listen to the community and listen to the people who have made Miami what it is.

If you could change the way Miami was perceived, what would you change?

Aja Monet: Jamaica Kincaid has this book, A Small Place, and it talks about how tourism is a privilege and how people get to be able to go somewhere and be voyeuristic and look at other communities and their issues. She really places a mirror, a reflection, on what that culture is and what that means. So I would just ask people to like examine their convictions and really be intentional about why they go to places and ask what are we bringing to a place and what are we taking from a place, and what are the things that we’re endorsing.

Miami is a place where I think a lot of people come, and they just see South Beach and they see the parties and the clubs and all this stuff, but Miami is huge. It’s vast. There’s history here. Martin Luther King Jr. began writing his “I Have A Dream” speech here. There are all these people who have constantly pushed Miami to be great and to do the unthinkable and to consider the most vulnerable, but I think that gets washed over by tourism and this narrative that people want to label it as an escapist place.

Just dive into the genuine culture of a community and be an engaged witness. Don’t just come in with your own agenda but truly support locals.


What do you do?

Miss Toto: I like to consider myself to be an artist, more so than a drag performer because I do more than just perform. I create experiences for people to take away from in real time. So yes, what I do is art.

Would you say Miami has an impact on your work and if so, how?

Miss Toto: Yes. The only reason I am actually doing any of this is that I moved to Miami. I grew up doing art, my mum was a dancer, I went to art school, and to art classes all throughout my younger years, but then I kind of lost that throughout high school and college because I was focused on doing science and trying to be the stereotypical idea of being successful. When I got to Miami, I realised, that this isn’t what’s going to make me happy in the long run and I needed to get back into doing art. So pulling at the references from the city that created Miss Toto makes my drag very quintessential to Miami. If you're looking at the stuff that I do, you’ll see that this is a specific Miami queen. Like the colour story that I like to choose from, the way I perform, the styling, and then taking people's idea of what Miami and what Miami drag is and blowing it out of the water.

When you say the colour and the styles that you're pulling from for your performances are Miami, how would you describe your Miami – your vision of Miami?

Miss Toto: I like to pull a lot of references from older Miami, like art deco mixed with the Versace prints, like very tacky gold – that aesthetic I love. But then mixing it with this new fresh, like tourist Miami. Of course, you have your whole neon colour story moments, but then you have this whole other side which is not when the tourists are here. All year round, you have gorgeous weather with the beach, with the gorgeous sunsets, sunrises and I like to pull a lot of colours from that. But then also using what I do, with the message and voice that I have, to say that we don't just have pageant queens here, we have club kids and artists that have real meaning in their work as opposed to just performing to make money and performing for entertainment.

“The only reason I am actually doing any of this is that I moved to Miami” – Miss Toto

The stereotypical perception of when I moved here, it was just South Beach but South Beach is maybe 5 per cent of the whole city, which has so much more to offer. And I feel like things like Basel – which really has a lot of pulls in Midtown and Wynwood – drags people from the beach and gives them a little more exposure into the real Miami. But you're still not getting those people to go to the Gables or the Grove or other little pockets that have so much culture and life and vibrancy.

What’s the best thing about Miami?

Miss Toto: Being able to go out and make friends, and make connections, and create your own sense of family. When I moved here, I didn't have anybody. I started going out to these other queer parties and through those parties is where I made actual real friends, to the point where I was like "oh, this is great. Like I have friends, I can call this place a home." It feels real as opposed to me just being here for a short time for grad school. Because when you're somewhere for school, you're not really thinking about living there. You're not living there, you're just there for school. Your home is back to wherever you're from, but by finding these people and really watching the scene grow, it has made me be able to call Miami home. So I would say my favourite part is the queer scene here and the ability to make those connections to create your own scene.

I literally went to a party by myself because it advertised very well. It was like if you dressed non-heteronormative, you got free drinks all night, so I was like, “great, perfect.” And I went and I met all these drag queens and all these people. And then I came the next month and everyone remembered me. It was just very homely to the point where those people then became my friends, and then they were inviting me to other things and it just snowballed.


What do you do?

Corey Damon Black: I’m an art director and designer by label, but fine artist by heart.

Does Miami impact your work?

Corey Damon Black: Miami definitely impacts my work. It's a split-personality city.  It’s like the craziest dichotomy of a city because it's like the light and the dark in one place. It's super rad, super inspirational.

How does that light and dark, that dichotomy, inform what you do and the way you design?

Corey Damon Black: The way that influences my design is a sense of comfort in Miami. What I'm really saying is that it's the imperfection that I love in Miami. I love how not perfect it is. I hate cities that appear to be perfect. Like, New York is like the City of Dreams or LA is like Hollywood. I love how Miami is just Miami. And you just say that word and you know what comes with it. You can kinda visualise it. That to me gives me a sense of comfort because I like to be myself, I don't like to dress up to appear to be something else. I will always wear jeans or a t-shirt, to like a fucking Bar Mitzvah or a family dinner, just because I want to be like myself. I feel like Miami is a city where I can be myself. And when I'm around other people, I don't feel like I'm not being myself because they are being themselves too. It allows me to be a 100 per cent Corey, with no remorse – from art to everything. You can pull inspiration from everything and I'll pull inspiration from being out until 4am, or pull inspiration from being at dinner with my girlfriend or looking at the sunset. There are so many different levels to Miami that are like light to the darkness. You could have someone rock bottom in a club going through some shit and then at the same time, a block away, you have the happiest people ever on a beach, living life. That sense of hope in hopelessness is the dopest shit for me.

“My perception of Miami is that it’s really like the beautiful piece of trash that you find that you can turn into the most beautiful painting” – Corey Damon Black

What does your perception Miami look like?

Corey Damon Black: My perception of Miami is that it’s really like the beautiful piece of trash that you find that you can turn into the most beautiful painting. It’s like you don’t need the white canvas to stare at forever. It’s like the trash that you find on the side of the road that actually inspires the most beautiful piece of art. That’s just my perception of Miami. Miami is literally to me, like, the kid’s that are getting bullied in school but has all the information. But they’re bullying it because it has all the information. They know the capabilities. It’s like the frustration of like ‘it’s not perfect but it’s perfect!’ It’s like everybody loves it, but it’s not perfect. Why do people fuck with it so much? That’s kind of like the vibe of Miami.

Miami doesn’t find you, you find Miami. To me, I view it like when you go to the fuckin’ pyramids, you know. You’ve got to get lost, you’ve got to see the culture, you’ve got to see what the fuck is going on. You have to go here, here, here, here, and then you’ll feel the energy, and then you’ll be like ‘wow, this place is kind of wild’. And then you can go here with this lavish shit, and then you can go here with all this shit going on next door, and down the block is this and then the beach is this. It’s just like that is crazy, you know?

What do you think the future of art looks like in Miami?

Corey Damon: The future of Miami is that artists and creatives, anyone that is creating anything, is doing it to the highest level. Whether it’s kids getting into architecture or the kid that builds the next sickest club, or the next music festival in Miami, or what’s the next art show, or what’s going to be the biggest gallery. All that is going to change in the next five years because the kids here don’t really give a fuck, you know? They don’t really have anything to lose.

I think the future of Miami is going to be the renaissance, for real. It’s going to shift a lot of shit. I think that the energy is going to start here and trickle out. A lot of the stuff that I have planned for the next year, 2019, 2020, a lot of those concepts are definitely going to trickle out of Miami and into other things – and it should.

This is legitimately a circus – it’s the only way to describe it. It is full-blown chaos. People are raging every day till 5am. Every club is open. It’s not just Art Basel. This is all the time. 365. Rage. Everyone wants to rage here. Everyone wants to party. Everyone wants to live. No fuckin’ rules. Who even knows what the fuck people are doing. There are no rules here. I truly believe it. It’s the idea of living like there are no rules, and actually living your life that way. It’s a very fulfilling way to live.


What do you do?

Venus Roots: I spend my days as a community organiser looking to develop black and brown political power. I’m a writer, poet, spoken word performer, and a facilitator for spaces of collective study.

Does Miami have an impact on your work?

Venus Roots: There is no variation of myself or my work that doesn’t centre around Miami because of the fact that it’s been the set in which most of all my memories have gone down in. It’s the frame in which I struggle to understand the world from. Aside from this, everyone who is close to me has roots planted all over this city and we are all uniquely invested in the wellbeing of our shared home. I think a lot about the apocalyptic fate we are destined for here but also dream about the revolutionary alternatives and possibilities we are building out.

Do you think the Miami art and creative scene is often overlooked for other cities?

Venus Roots: Not only do I feel that the scene here is overlooked, but it’s also undermined. Miami is an international hub that serves elite global capital interests and with that, many of us, who are young people of colour, are pushed to the margin and left with little to no resources to build out an infrastructure of opportunities for creative folks down here. But the paradox is, these are also the conditions that have birthed progressive thought, radical imagination, and art collectives that are pushing the bounds and transforming what and who Miami stands for.

“Not only do I feel that the scene here is overlooked, but it’s also undermined” – Venus Roots

What's the best thing about living in Miami?

Venus Roots: As a daughter of the Caribbean diaspora, Miami is a reflection of the places many of us long to still call home. It’s an intermediate, always in-between, coastal and palm trees, but not quite an island. Even with all its contradictions, Miami helps me make sense of the nuances that come with being a child of immigrants, code-switching in between languages and cultural moments, grappling with our internalised colonisation, and the confusion as to which narratives are ours to claim or not. I personally recharge through the sun and ocean, so Miami is an anchor to me.

If you could change anything about the way Miami is perceived, what would it be?

Venus Roots: The city and its people are constantly adapting, but so many of us are infiltrating creative spaces and the nightlife scene, that are often most representative of negative stereotypes and pushing people to demand more. We think critically and act accordingly. We don’t just want Miami to survive, we want Miami to thrive and as the sea rises, so will our people.

How would you define your Miami?

Venus Roots: The place that reminds you to look off to the ocean and remember how expansive you are. The greenery, the pastel-coloured homes, Spanish and Creole, un cafecito to get you through the day, finding light and warmth even against all odds.


What do you do?

Zack Mars: I connect people in the creative industries of music, fashion, nightlife, and art. At the moment, I’m working on marketing and sponsorships for this dope company called III Points. We produced a couple of huge parties during Basel this year and from February 15-17, 2019 is our annual festival of the same name with an ill line up. I also manage a couple artists.

Does Miami have an impact on your work?

Zack Mars: Miami inspires me as I continue to try to push the culture forward and make an impact in my community.

Do you think the Miami art and creative scene is often overlooked for other cities?

Zack Mars: Yes, I think Miami is often overlooked to the major scenes of New York, LA, etc. However, I think Art Basel shines a growing light annually that brings a strong wave of awareness and energy to our local art and creative scenes.

What's the best thing about living in Miami?

Zack Mars: There’s this really awful saying that goes “we live where you vacation.” So within that same frame of thinking, when family, friends, and people I work with, come to Miami, almost everyone is here to have a good time and wants an experienced local’s opinion on what to do, where to eat, where to stay, and everything in between.

“I’d try to change the perception that Miami is South Beach. There is much much more to Miami then just South Beach” – Zack Mars

What’s your insider Miami tip?

Zack Mars: Check out 39th street in the Design District. A couple of cool pop-ups directly next door to each other. First, Lower East Coast, a cool bookstore and more. Next door to them is Andrew skate shop, just steps from their pop-up skate park. Andrew’s pop-up is directly next door to Swan (Pharrell’s new restaurant). St. Roch Market is also on the block and is a food hall with a full bar and fire vegan chocolate chip cookies by Chloe.

If you could change anything about the way Miami is perceived, what would it be?

Zack Mars: I’d try to change the perception that Miami is South Beach. There is much much more to Miami then just South Beach. I’d urge people visiting here to spend some of their time checking out the cool local spots off the beach so they can better understand the type of cultural melting pot that exists in Miami.

How would you define your Miami?

Zack Mars: My Miami is a community built of creatives supporting each other trying to make Miami a more culturally relevant global destination.