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The Miami Loco Art Festival : A Work in Process.

Jim Coates runs an art gallery in Miami. Photo by Libby Rooney

Miami Loco Art Festival is a one of a kind experience of music, poetry, visual arts, performance art, body art, street art, and “open-to-suggestions” art. It combines a little bit of Loco, some heart and soul and enough of the unexpected to be worth a drive from the Valley or wherever. In Historic Downtown Miami, beginning Friday, April 20th continuing through Sunday, the 22nd, this event wakes up this ordinarily slow and sleepy town every spring.

A work in process, Miami Loco began nine years ago. At first not really a festival at all, more like an artists weekend retreat to an historic mining town. The main promoter and organizer, of the event, Michael Twenty-Three is proud to say that, after ten years, locals are beginning to refer to him as a “transplant” rather than an “outsider.” For Michael there has been a learning curve to achieve local acceptance of his vision and its realization. It has been slow, but old-timers are learning to enjoy the unsettling feeling of festival goers invading their very own Sullivan Street.

The first festivals were small, just a handful of paint-stained-jeans-wearing-artists exhibiting their work at the Miami Art Works store, and a few bands from the Valley performing on a little stage in the parking lot. Each year the festival grew a little bigger, more bands came to play, more artists brought art to show, eventually taking over Memorial Park and closing a section of Sullivan Street for venders and festival goers. Some locals complained: they didn’t like the name Loco, it attracted people who were “weird,” they said. Others, including city council members, didn’t like the noise and didn’t like the mess left behind. One visiting artist left some X-rated chalk art on the sidewalk. So, it took time for Miami Loco and the town to work out the kinks of their relationship. Now, city council and festival organizers work together, and local artists enjoy the opportunity to perform and exhibit their work.

The Miami Arts Works Building. Photo by Libby Rooney

Michael Twenty-Three, owner of Miami Art Works, says that being different in a small town wasn’t easy in the beginning. Arriving from Phoenix in search of an affordable place where he and his wife Joanna could buy a little space with enough room for them, some other artists like them, walls for a gallery, and a little stage for performance art. He is a deep and creative thinker with ideas about cooperative living, organic art, creating community vegetable gardens for sustainable living and revitalizing Sullivan Street with “a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker.” He is an idealist and stands out as different in a town where people have come to accept that Walmart has replaced all the once thriving small businesses in town. Today the Twenty-Three’s (Michael, Joanna, son Enki and dog Bandit) are no longer treated like outsiders. One local said, “They learned to fit in and not be so strange.” Strange or different or just new in town, there’s  a process of acceptance into a small community.

Co-organizer of Miami Loco from the start and a transplant, like Michael, Jim Coates came to Miami 12 years ago. He bought a building on Sullivan Street, and renovated it into an art gallery and coffee shop. Presently focusing on his own art and another renovation project, he has closed the gallery temporarily but his gallery will be open for the festival. Jim and Michael share a vision for an artists’ quarter in Miami that would be a positive and synergetic addition to the community. Jim studied art at Arizona State before getting drafted. After his military service he studied at the Art Institute in San Francisco, studied in Oregon to get his MFA Degree then studied print-making at Tamarind Institute in New Mexico. After that he went to New York to acquire his doctorate degree. Jim says, “Making stuff has always been a learning process and I’m still learning. Miami has taught me a lot.”

Michael 23 at his gallery in Miami. Photo by Libby Rooney

Local musician, Stephen Palmer and wife Zenaida, have joined the Miami Loco team, focusing on organizing performances on the Fitzpatrick Building stage, this year’s main festival outdoor stage. Located on Keystone Ave, the street will be closed to traffic so festival goers can enjoy the historic charm of the beautiful, ongoing renovation of the Fitzpatrick Building at the foot of the Keystone stairs while watching live performances. Jim Coates and other visual artists will be exhibiting their work in the Fitzpatrick Building and Ray Webb will be demonstrating his famous “Largest Tattoo Machine in the World.” Stephen and Zenaida will be performing at the festival in their Heart of Arizona Band that has a “Country Folk, Western sound with a twist of California island lifestyle.” Stephen says, “We love to play music, we love to perform and we love being a part of celebrations.”

Whether you consider yourself a maker of art, a fan of art, or a lover of weekend adventure out of the city, Miami Loco offers its own recipe of small town charm combined with art walks, open mics, exhibitions, street vendors, and more.

About Libby Rooney

Libby Rooney
After living in Israel for 35 years Libby Rooney arrived in Globe where she manages the Chrysocolla Inn, writes and performs Spoken Word Poetry and enjoys the good life of small town, Arizona. Her focus for GMT is covering the Arts and Creative culture of Globe-Miami.

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