Monday, December 9, 2013

A $2 million display down a Wynwood sidestreet and other Basel 2013 moments

Critic's Choices

 By John Dorschner

     With the heart of an amateur afficionado, this intrepid surveyor set out to see as much Art Basel that he could take without paying for admission or valet parking. This meant occasionally using a bus to get to and from Wynwood, which worked just fine. Let others complain about skimpy hors d'oeuvres, crowded streets, too many out-of-towners or slow valets. I had a great time.
    Here are my highlights for a fabulous week of art.
    Most unexpected moment:  The Now Contemporary Art, down a little side street in Wynwood. A friend and I peeked in near the end of a tiring day of a lot of walking, and got a huge surprise: A large installation by the Colombian artist Federico Uribe. Old briefcases made into a boat. A chandelier made of forks. Legs and shopping bags hanging from the ceiling, trees made out of baby suckers.
    It was so good I made a two-minute video of it, which you can watch here. In the video, with narration by assistant director Eliana Baddour, I called the work magical realism, but since the title of the show is The Realm of the Unreal, perhaps magical unrealism is a better title. The whole thing can be  yours for $2 million -- and I think it'd look great in a museum, though maybe it's too much fun and not enough captions. (See Why?WhyNot below.)
    More about Uribe here. More on the Now gallery here.

Eliana Baddour at Now
Kate Clark's zebra
     Made me look twice, then three times: A human-like face on a zebra. I saw this at Art Miami (which required a $25 ticket, but somehow I got a VIP card free in the mail). It's by Kate Clark, represented by the Muriel Guepin Gallery in New York. I think the rep said it goes for about  $38,000. Her work is a great mixture that shows how humans and non-humans are to each other.

   Photography -- The Taiwanese photographer Shen Chao-Liang riveting work is at the Dina Mitrani Gallery, 2620 NW 2nd. Ave. A lot of good stuff. I particularly liked his Stages series -- colorful, portable Taiwanese stages that are unfolded on site. These photos were shot at twilight, with 30- or 90-second exposures.

     Video -- A sometimes funny, sometimes disconcerting three panels at the Rubell that kept my attention, particularly the center one which showed two geese tied together at the neck.

      Why? Why Not? Well, I still don't stand around admiring a Warhol Campbell soup can or Brillo box, even if it's now worth tons of money. And being a fearless curmudgeon, I'm not shy in wondering about Ai Weiwei. He may be a great dissident and showman, but if you have to read the caption to appreciate the art, then the caption is the art, right?
    Prime examples this year: A Ton of Tea at the Rubell. So Weiwei (or more likely his helpers) compressed tea into a cube that's brown, which is near a concrete slab that consists (supposedly) of individual layers of Chinese government sayings piled on top of each other (so you can't see them).
    And then at the taxpayer-subsidized Perez we get two Weiwei Bowls of Pearls. They are large ... bowls ... of ... pearls. That's it. I didn't read the caption.     One of the defining points for rich art collectors is that gallery reps explain to them how wonderful something is because it signifies the cosmic crisis of  xxxx  -- the caption! It's really a plus to the collectors and sales people that philistines (like me) grumble about it.  Then it must be art!
If these were Biblical pearls, then I guess I'd be the swine.
 Oh, and I almost forgot. In the land where caption is king, I walked quickly past a piece of unfolded paper until my companion brought me back, insisting that I read explainer: The point was that this paper -- with a few silly words on it -- had been pulled from the artist's vagina. Aha! Now it's art.

       Supporting Local -- Worth a visit whenever you get a chance. The Purvis Young Art Museum at 255 NW 23rd Street -- the home of the art of the celebrated Overtown-Liberty City artist, with views ranging from the serious to the Daffy.

The Purvis Young Art Museum

Friday, November 29, 2013

Video Interviews with famed restaurateur Mark Soyka

     He's hitting 70. His fabled News Cafe will be a quarter century old on Dec. 2. A print interview with him appears in the Biscayne Times coming out this weekend and at Soyka was one of the first in creating energy on Ocean Drive and his opening of the Soyka Restaurant is seem by many as a major step in rejuvenating Biscayne Boulevard.
    Video excerpts of the interviews are available through the MiamiWebNews channel on Youtube:
     -- Soyka discusses here what gives him "goose bumps" -- a passion for vintage cars that's leading to a new business venture.
     --  He talks here about how his status as a technological "dinosaur" led to his decision to keep News Cafe open around the clock.
     -- And he tells here how he left his native Israel for New York, where he met developer Tony Goldman at "whiteys' night" at a roller rink in Bedford-Stuyvesant -- a relationship that ultimately led him to coming to South Beach, first to manage the Park Central Hotel for Goldman and then, on a Goldman property at 8th and Ocean, creating the News Cafe, starting in a kiosk and expanding until it is the best known gathering place, with 350 seats, on Ocean Drive.
    These videos are part of the new MiamiWebNews channel on Youtube. Among others, you can also see here an interview with Miami author Marvin Dunn about his latest book, The Beast in Florida -- A History of Anti-Black Violence. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Why is NE 2nd Avenue such a mishmash of Paris and Bangladesh?

By John Dorschner
NE 2nd Avenue near 70th Street: Bangladesh by the Quike Foodmart
 A long section of NE 2nd Avenue has become a shining example of how government treats the haves and  have-nots.
    Some stretches could be Paris -- smooth streets, curbs, good drainage, bike lanes and decorative lighting. Other parts feel like Bangladesh -- pock-marked and bumpy streets, with poor lighting and puddles pooling in mud and gravel beside the curbless pavement.  
    The ritzy Design District, home to upscale shops such as Hermes and Pucci, with a powerhouse developer planning much more, occupies a fine section of NE 2nd Avenue from 36th to 42nd streets.
    Just north of that comes a hodgepodge of shops and restaurants, a Catholic high school and the middle-class Buena Vista residential neighborhood. That area, from 42nd to 51st streets, is akin to a Third World street, with dark lighting and bumpy road -- conditions that residents say helped cause the death of a night-time pedestrian earlier this year. Buena Vista residents have become exceedingly vocal in complaining to politicians that their area has been ignored. 
    Just north of Buena Vista, starting at 51st and going up to 69th, comes another excellent section, with designer lamps and trees planted in the swale area.  This stretch includes the sprawling campus of Miami Jewish Health Systems, Little Haiti and the McArthur Dairy plant.
    North of that, from 69th to 79th streets, it's back to Bangladesh.
    "It's not one United States. It's two United States," complains Mohammed Siddique, who runs the Quike Foodmart on NE 2nd at 70th Street. "People don't want to stop at a store when they see a street like this," he said nodding toward the puddles that occupy the swale area in front of his store.
    Siddique drives down the avenue frequently and is livid at the contrast. "It's been like this two years now," Siddique says -- the time since some areas were fixed up while others were ignored. "Why not fix this problem? I don't understand."
    Siddique isn't sure who to complain to. He's been thinking of writing a letter to Sen. John McCain of Arizona -- a guy he's seen on TV, but who  spends his days thinking much more about Syria than NE 2nd Avenue.
Design District: Nice curbs, nice palms, smooth pavement

    Rich Raimann, president of the Buena Vista East Historic Neighborhood Association, has a much more focused idea on who to talk to.  Earlier this summer, residents of his homeowners group barraged city and county politicians with letters -- a campaign reported in July by
    That campaign led to a meeting on July 30 between city and county staffers and Buena Vista residents about what they wanted to see along their stretch of the avenue, Raimann said in a telephone interview.
    The residents' demands included trees and a new stop light at NE 46th street. Restaurant owners along that stretch noted the need for wide sidewalks so they could have outdoor seating and street parking -- something the area sorely needs because residents on the side streets are irate about restaurant-goers blocking their driveways.
    Residents too emphasized the need for better street lighting -- pointing to a pedestrian killed by a motorist some months ago on the dark stretch.
Rough pavement in Buena Vista area, just north of smooth road in the Design District.
    "We're getting close to the end," Raimann said hopefully. Construction on the stretch, he was told, might start this fall.
    UPDATE: In an email after first publication, Raimann said county officials had told him that the city has a moratorium on construction through the holidays and it would be best to tell residents that construction will probably get rolling at the beginning of 2014. END UPDATE
    Raimann, a real-estate agent, said he wanted to make clear that he wasn't angry that the Design District got its section redone two years ago while Buena Vista waited. He understands the street renovations were rushed through in time for Art Basel, the annual December event which "brings a lot of money to the city. ... We're not at odds with Dacra," he said of the Craig Robin's company that has huge plans to develop the area.
     “I completely understand why the Design District should come first," Raimann said. "But it's two years later. We've waited long enough."
    He said "it's been very unclear" why there have been delays on improving the other stretches. "Everybody is passing the buck."
    When this reporter told Raimann that he had asked the city and county to explain the delays, Raimann replied: "Good luck with that."
     On Thursday, the county came up with an explanation that involves a lengthy series of events, starting with voters approving the half-penny transportation tax in 2002 and continuing with Obama stimulus funds that became available in 2009.
    Frank Calderon, communications manager of Miami-Dade County Public Works and Waste Management Department, said the NE 2nd Avenue project from NE 20th Street to NE 91st Street was part of the adopting ordinance of the People's Transportation Plan on how to use the tax money.  (Calderon's full statement is included in the post below this one.)
    That means it was in the fundamental plan to persuade voters to shell out an extra half-penny in sales tax -- a plan that originally included ambitious expansions of Metrorail. County leaders eventually admitted that the plan had "overpromised" transportation improvements to voters.
    For NE 2nd, however, there was initially some progress. Fairly quickly, the county built the northern section -- from NE 84th through NE 91st Street -- the Little River commercial area and the village of El Portal.
    Calderon said the city asked the county to let it handle the avenue within city boundaries -- from NE 20th Street to NE 84th Street. The sections that have been improved used funds from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, generally known as the Obama stimulus money handed out to boost the ecomony and create jobs.
    Plans for other areas -- including the Quike Foodmart section and Buena Vista -- are slogging through the bureaucratic process. Those sections "are still under design by the city," Calderon said in an e-mail.  "The city is currently developing the final cost estimates, right-of-way section maps, plans, and typical sections for county staff to review and approve. ... At this time the City has not provided a schedule, as they recently selected a new consultant to finalize the design."
    When the city process is complete, then the Citizen's Independent Transportation Trust, which administers the half-penny tax for the county, can fund the project. 
    The full text of Calderon's reply can be be read in a post at the bottom of this article.
    As this story is published on the web, the city has not responded to five requests for comment.
    A CITT document shows that the design of the Buena Vista segment  is 90 percent complete, but there is not yet a contract reward for construction -- an often lengthy process of its own. 
    The area from NE 69th to NE 84th streets -- the stretch including the Quike Foodmart -- is said to be 60 percent designed. Design of the last section -- from NE 36th to 20th Streets, a mixed area of pawn shops, storage units and car dealerships -- is 20 percent complete, according to the Trust document.
    For many, the street improvements can't come quickly enough.
Buena Vista, near Emilio Robba, looking toward Design District.

    "It's hurting us," says Yami Contreras, a staffer at Emilio Robba, an upscale shop selling high-priced "illusion" flowers, meaning artificial, such as a bundle of tall stalks of ersatz bamboo that go for $1260. 
    The store is in the 42nd block of NE 2nd Avenue, just north of where the nice stretch of Design District road ends. Contreras suspects that many shoppers stop when they get to the curbless road with its gravelly swale and puddles and don't visit her store. 
    "We don't understand why they stopped fixing the street," Contreras says. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

County Statement on why NE 2nd Ave is such a mishmash of Paris and Bangladesh

      Here's the full statement on on NE 2nd Avenue sent Thursday by Frank Calderon, communications manager of Miami-Dade County Public Works and Waste Management Department:
      The roadway improvement project with limits of NE 2 Avenue from NE 20 Street to NE 91 Street is funded by the People’s Transportation Plan (PTP), and was one of the major roadway improvement projects included in the PTP’s adopting ordinance.
      “The County has designed and built the portion from NE 84 Street to NE 91 Street. In 2005, the City of Miami (City) requested to take the lead in the design and construction of the remaining segment of the corridor (NE 20 Street to NE 84 Street) since it lies within the City’s municipal boundaries.
      “The City has built the segments from NE 36 Street to NE 42 Street, from NE 51 Street to NE 57 Street, and from NE 57 Street to NE 69 Street (using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act monies).
     “The remaining segments between NE 20 Street to NE 36 Street, NE 42 Street to NE 51 Street, and NE 69 Street to NE 84 Street are still under design by the City. Funding for the eventual improvements will be provided by the County to the City via a Joint Participation Agreement (JPA).  At this time the City has not provided a schedule, as they recently selected a new consultant to finalize the design.
      “The final draft of the JPA is in process and will provide that the County reimburse the City for the construction of the remaining roadway segments.  As an integral part of the JPA, the City is currently developing the final cost estimates, right-of-way section maps, plans, and typical sections for County staff to review and approve.
      “The City’s Public Works Department has advised that utility companies (e.g., WASD, AT&T, FP&L) are performing relocation or replacement of their facilities along the section of NE 42 Street to NE 51 Street in preparation for forthcoming construction activities.”

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Getting the Word Out on New Health Insurance

    Get Covered America, a national campaign to inform Americans about the new upcoming opportunities on health insurance, is planning two organizing meetings in South Florida this weekend.
    In Miami-Dade, a "launch canvass" is planned for Saturday, June 22, at 10 a.m. at the Mejias Medical Center, 3091 Coral Way.
    In Broward, the meeting is scheduled for noon Sunday, June 23, "just outside the entrance" of the Broward West Regional Library, at 8601 W. Broward Blvd., Plantation.
    The meetings are dedicated to getting word out about the upcoming exchanges, which will be pools of coverage so that individuals and small businesses can get cheaper group rates while not banning benefits because of preexisting conditions. Details on exchanges are supposed to be available by Oct. 1, with coverage starting Jan. 1.
     The organization's website,, says it's an effort of Enroll America, which has its own website identifying itself as a nonprofit corporation. Enroll America's board includes Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA; Sister Carol Keehan, chief executive of Catholic Health Association of the United States; and Richard Umbdenstock, chief executive of the American Hospital Association.

     The Get Covered Meetings are hoping to attract volunteers who will be part of a door-to-door effort to explain the benefits. In South Florida, the new exchanges could benefit hundreds of thousands of uninsured persons and those who now struggle to afford coverage in individual and small-group markets.
      Santiago Leon, a Miami health insurance broker and board member of Florida CHAIN, told a healthcare summit last week that he's concerned that so little has yet been done to get word out about the opportunities coming with the Affordable Care Act.
    Persons seeking more information can contact Jimmy Tan at 718-208-5024.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Uncertainty permeates South Florida healthcare industry

By John Dorschner

The healthcare industry in South Florida is overwhelmed by uncertainty as providers wait for major provisions of the Affordable Care Act to kick in next Jan. 1.
    That was the underlying buzz in Fort Lauderdale on Friday at the annual summit of the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association.
    Vendors were quietly talking about how hospitals are postponing major purchases in equipment and software until they see how the federal healthcare reforms impact their operations. Healthcare construction companies are taking any small jobs they can find, hoping that major hospital building will resume when the future becomes clearer.
    The issues were put into sharp focus by one of the nation's top experts in healthcare economics who said the future of the industry -- and the nation's delivery system -- hinge on what he calls "four big bets," tied to the upcoming momentous events.
    Richard Clarke, former chief executive of the Healthcare Financial Management Association, said the nation faces huge uncertainties.
    The first is whether people will enroll in Medicaid. The Florida Legislature so far has rejected expanding Medicaid, which could have added perhaps one million persons to health insurance -- a move that would have reduced the hospital costs of uninsured patients -- costs hospitals are now passing on to those with private insurance.
    The second is whether employers will drop health benefits after 2016, deciding it is better to pay the federal penalties than continue to fund workers' premiums, said Clarke. On the flip side, will those employees without coverage purchase insurance as the law requires?
    The third: Will the state manage its responsibilities under the Affordable Care Act. At the moment, Florida is doing virtually nothing to prepare for the act, and is leaving everything -- including the formation of insurance exchanges -- to the federal government.
    And -- perhaps biggest of all -- Clarke asked whether healthcare delivery systems will be able to cut costs over time through remedies such as accountable care organizations, medical homes and bundled payments.
    PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that there's $1.2 trillion in waste in the healthcare system, but that's hard to squeeze out, especially without incentives, Clarke said.
    Clarke cited one hospital's experience in which it reduced readmission rates of patients with congestive heart failure by 48 percent. That action was achieved at a cost to the hospital of $1100 per patient. Insurers saved far more than that, but didn't reward the hospital for its actions.
    Clarke described this as a "conumdrum" in which hospitals want to do the right thing, but face disincentives in doing so -- a tension that could make for considerable turmoil in trying to reduce healthcare costs.
    At present, Clarke said, the message that the government and insurers are sending: "If you are going to do good, you're going to do worse."
    At an afternoon session, the state's Medicaid director, Justin Senior, told the conference that the state could save $1 billion a year for the first three years in accepting Medicaid expansion just in some secondary costs -- such as the Medically Needy program, which is now paid for by the state but could become part of Medicaid expansion.
    Chris Paterson, chief executive of Sunshine State Health Plan, said there are "a lot of unknowns" about the exchanges that start Jan. 1, designed to create pools so that individuals and small businesses can get lower group rates and people can't be denied coverage because of "preexisting conditions."
    Paterson said a million people in Florida could go into the exchange, which will be designed by the federal government, but "we really don't know who is going to sign  up for these programs. ... We see a lot of trepidation among providers."
    Steven Ullmann, a health policy expert in the University of Miami School of Administration, asked a media panel whether the media didn't have a responsibility to inform the public about the opportunities starting Jan. 1 -- and advocate that people join.
    The three media panelists, which included this reporter, said that advocacy wasn't the media's job, but agreed that it was important to inform the public about what's available.
    Santiago Leon, a Miami health insurance broker and board member of Florida CHAIN, said he was concerned that not enough was being done in the region to inform the public about what opportunities would be available in the Affordable Care Act and to get people behind a push to get Medicaid expansion approved in the state.
    CHAIN is a state advocacy group to improve access to affordable quality healthcare.
    Healthcare providers haven't given up on Medicaid expansion, and the Florida Hospital Association has developed a website,, to promote the need for Medicaid expansion.
    Leon said after the meeting that there are disincentives for males, the young and healthy to sign up for the exchanges, and under a worst-case scenario, it was possible that fewer persons in Florida might be insured after Jan. 1 than are now insured.
    Many experts have noted that it took years of tinkering with Medicare, after it was introduced in the 1960s, to get it the point where it worked smoothly. They anticipate the complexities of Obamacare will also require considerable tinkering, but that the present stalemate between Congress and the White  House make cooperative changes unlikely in the near future.
     The writer can be reached at

Friday, May 10, 2013


    A broad exhibit of some of the best photographers and artists in Miami's history is set to open Saturday in Wynwood.
    The exhibit, entitled 20 Shades of Grey, features 20 creators whose work will appear at the Zadok Gallery, starting with an opening reception 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday.
    Those featured include Clyde Butcher, the fabulous nature photographer, and Maggie Evans Silverstein, known for her stunning portraits. Others featured are Jill Cannady, Margarita Cano and Robert Thiele.
    These artists "have been making their mark in Miami before Art Basel, Art Fair Week, Art Miami, or the graffiti walls arrived," says the gallery website. "Their personal visions must be considered if we are to have a full understanding of the history of art in Miami in this century as well as for future centuries. In the course of organizing this exhibition, the most difficult decision was which artists to invite (how does one select within the select?). In the end, however, beyond the age of the artist, the only criteria used were the aesthetic qualities of each work."
    The exhibit, at 2534 N. Miami Ave., runs through July 4. More information at

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Navigators” – a buzz word you'll be hearing a lot more about

      UPDATES at end of story about nonprofit "sniffing" and Wash Post report on agents' worries.

        In preparation for the huge changes coming next year in healthcare reform, moves are starting quietly about a small but crucial piece for consumers – the role of people called “navigators.”
      These are the people – funded by the federal government – whose job will be to help consumers negotiate the complicated new world of exchanges, in which virtually everyone will be able to buy insurance at group rates, regardless of age or preexisting conditions.
       Santiago Leon, a Miami health insurance broker who's highly active in healthcare causes, reports that Florida will get about $5.8 million in the first year to fund navigator programs.
       Many consumers will be interested in exploring what exchanges to have to offer and at what price. That's true for the uninsured and for employees who are clinging to jobs they don't like just because they're guaranteed to get health coverage.
        Their questions about the new exchanges are likely to be plentiful, particularly in the first year or two, and the Affordable Care Act has allocated money to helping consumers understand them.
        Florida's Legislature and governor never took action to have a state-controlled exchange, and the state's residents will be signing up for one designed by the federal government.
         Even so, the Florida Association of Health Underwriters is asking the Legislature to craft legislation to deal with navigators.
        “Navigators are not insurance agents and HHS [Health and Human Services] clearly states that states cannot require navigators to hold [an] agent/producer license,” the association said in a press release.
        “With this in mind, we are recommending legislation that addresses the qualifications of the navigator and clearly differentiates their role from that of a licensed insurance agent,” the association said.
         The association's underlying fear is that a navigator might be a company that gets federal funds to direct patients to its own products.
           Leon notes: “There can be more than one navigator for Florida, but at least one of them must be a 'community and consumer- focused nonprofit.'
         At present many Florida nonprofits in the healthcare sector are studying the regs that navigators must meet – but it's unclear how many will make formal bids.
           Leon says federal regs require entities who want to be navigators need to become experts in eligibility and enrollment details, provide information in a fair, accurate and impartial manner and conduct public education campaigns to make people aware of the exchanges.
UPDATE: One anonymous insider notes: “There is a lot of sniffing around going on” among major Florida healthcare nonprofits who are thinking of becoming navigators, but none have announced as of yet and all are said to be looking at each other.

Much more on the jockeying for regulations and bids for participation are likely in coming months. The exchanges can start enrolling people in October, for coverage that begins Jan. 1.

UPDATE: The Washington Post reports that the navigators are going to be a huge undertaking, with California expected to need 21,000 advisers for its state alone. The Post reports that some health agents groups are demanding legislation holding navigators liable for bad advice on picking a plan, because the agents fear that navigators may navigate business away from the agents. 
           Much more on the jockeying for regulations and bids for participation are likely in coming months. The exchanges can start enrolling people in October, for coverage that begins Jan. 1.