Craig Robins: A Not So Secret Love Affair with Art
November-December Issue 2015
By Angela Betancourt
Before they were turned into charming boutique hotels, before they were restaurants, before they gained worldwide fame and recognition, the Art Deco District was merely a series of run-down buildings facing an uncertain future. If it wasn’t for the vision and determination of a few pioneering individuals, who saw this historic district for its potential, the Miami Beach we know today would not exist.
One of these visionaries is Craig Robins, a real estate developer, philanthropist, and art enthusiast that has made a massive impact in Miami’s real estate, culture, and art landscape. Robins is also the Founder and CEO of Dacra, a real estate company that is constantly propelling Miami into the future.
Robins’ vision for the Art Deco District was unprecedented. He began investing in South Beach real estate in the 1980s and steadily restored iconic properties to their original grandeur. As the neighborhood began to thrive and flourish, Robins set his eyes across the bridge.
He is the man behind the Miami Design District (MDD) which has become a famed neighborhood in its own right. Less than 30 years ago the MDD was the neglected area of the city you wouldn’t want to get caught in walking around at night. Today, the MDD is a destination that’s home to numerous restaurants, galleries, artists, luxury retail brands, and innovative businesses.
“When we set out to revitalize and reinvent the District, our goal was to cultivate an atmosphere where creativity could flourish, regardless of its specific label or medium. These artistic endeavors are all vital components of the fabric of the Design District – the value systems informing each are remarkably similar, with an emphasis on craft, quality, and a profound commitment to expressing a creative vision,” he shared.
One of the first things Robins and his team did was to bring back the element of furniture design in order to compete with a nearby business. The move paid off and as new buildings were created; heavy hitters in the design world began setting up showrooms. Robins also fostered an environment of creativity and innovation by providing artists with studio space.
“As the neighborhood became known as a laboratory for creativity, we hosted events like the annual Art Loves Design party to celebrate those flourishing creative disciplines. We created public art installations by Marc Newson, Jose Bedia and Zaha Hadid among others,” he said.
It wasn’t long before leading fashion brands took notice of the neighborhood’s new personality. The MDD soon welcomed Marni, Christian Louboutin, Maison Martin Margiela, and others. There are currently more than 50 luxury fashion brands in the neighborhood with brands like Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Isabel Marant, Loro Piana, Tod’s and Van Cleef & Arpels expected in 2016.
“While the revitalization of the neighborhood began with a cultivation of design showrooms and art collections of international significance, fashion was always part of my vision for the Design District,” said Robins.
While two of Miami’s most important neighborhoods were being physically transformed, a creative metamorphosis was simultaneously taking shape: the emergence of Miami’s art scene.
Robins’ passion for the arts transcends beyond his personal life and into his work. He even positioned Dacra to be a real estate development firm “that uses architecture, art, design and cultural programming to build creative international destinations.”
He speaks of art not in the way of colors on a canvas or molded form; it comes from a much deeper place.
“I am instinctive in choosing art, but my life is an interaction between intuitive impulses and a conscious mind, one checks the other. When I become interested in an artist, I tend to collect their work in depth. For more than a decade I have been working with Jack Tilton, who has been the single greatest influence on me as an art collector. Jack is one of the most insightful people working in the art world today, he gave me the confidence to work harder on building my collection”.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Robins is also the Principle of the leading international design show Design Miami and is also responsible for introducing Miami Art Basel to the city. Art Basel has now become one of the largest art fairs in the world; featuring more than 200 galleries and attracting thousands of visitors each year.
Miami Art Basel takes place over one week in December. During this time, the amount of events being hosted around the city is almost maddening. Each year it gets even larger. The act of attending all of these events, also known as Art Baseling, is not for the weak of spirit. Robins’ take on it is pretty accurate: “Trying to get ready for Art Basel Miami Beach – it’s a kind of endurance event that you have to train for.”
Though Miami Art Basel only comes once a year, Robins believes in creating events and programs that will keep the community more engaged in the arts year round. The MDD currently has a diverse arts and culture program that seeks to constantly engage the community across a variety of art platforms. Some of the initiatives include a lecture series, an art day for families, a six week live music series called District Sounds, and a Site-Specific Performance Series that takes the performance out of the traditional theater and into the neighborhood.
“As our base of important cultural institutions grows here in the Miami Design District, so has our ability to connect the community with distinguished artists, curators, critics and cultural figures. The lecture series offered at the de la Cruz Collection, the ICA/Miami and Locust Projects (exhibition space) both engages and inspires conversations within the Miami arts community.”
Each event is carefully curated to further an understanding of contemporary art and to allow the artist to engage with the audience in unexpected ways. By breaking from the traditional, the community has an opportunity to experience art in more unusual and interactive ways. The programs and events are designed to make art accessible to everyone.
With an eye always on the future, Robins has big plans ahead for the area directly north of the MDD. Dacra is currently working on developing 40th and 41st streets. The plans include 20 new buildings that will house 50 luxury and contemporary brands, a world-class boutique hotel, luxury residential condominiums, and large scale public art installations.
“Miami has become one of the world’s cultural capitals over the past two decades and from within this nexus of commerce, creativity and multiculturalism, we’ve seen a real ‘Miami’ point of view emerge. It certainly has become a destination for international shoppers as Miami itself is becoming increasingly cosmopolitan. Miami is definitely a city of the future.”
For more information on Dacra, please visit www.dacra.com
For more information on Craig Robins, please visit www.craigrobins.com
For more information on Miami Art Basel, please visit www.artbasel.com/miami-beach
For more information on the Miami Design District, please visit www.miamidesigndistrict.net
Click here to view this post in MSM’s November/December digital issue