Miami Local Legend: Kathryn Mikesell

To the unsuspecting eye, the simple, one-story building facing Miami’s Biscayne Bay looks like any other idyllic family home. But behind the 1950’s style exterior and huge glass windows that provide nearly unending daylight lies an artistic haven known as the Fountainhead Residency. Launched in 2008 by art collectors Kathryn and Dan Mikesell, the nonprofit organization seeks to provide an incubator for creativity and innovation by hosting up to three artists at any one time and providing them with free housing and work space in Miami. Years later, the Mikesells have hosted 300 artists from 21 countries, and have helped develope the Miami art scene, which now attracts visitors year-round, instead of just during Art Basel.

Shortly after forming the Residency, the Mikesells launched two additional programs, Fountainhead Studios and Fountainhead Haus, which provide housing and workspace to more than forty artists at a time and help to further their mission to inspire Miami’s artistic development, and bring more ambitious art to the city. As a bonus, the programs entrench their art-loving family even deeper in the art world. Here, Kathryn Mikesell shares what life is like at the Residency as well as her can’t-miss restaurants and Miami’s hottest new neighborhood.

What was the catalyst that prompted you to launch the Fountainhead Residency?

We’ve always tried to get to know the artists behind the work we collected. You connect differently with a work when you know the artist and understand the inspirations that lead to its creation. The initial catalyst behind opening The Fountainhead Residency was to have the opportunity to meet artists in a more intimate way and to understand what it meant to take something from a concept through to a finished work. As we continued to develop our ideas, we saw the opportunity to support local non-profits, museums and galleries. When foreign artists could stay in Miami for longer periods of time, they were able to react to the space and produce more ambitious exhibitions. They could give talks about their work, have a dialogue with the public, take the time to meet Miami-based artists to share ideas and inspirations and get to know Miami from the inside.

What is the application process like for the artists? After being open for six years, many of the artists come through recommendations or we invite them directly after having seen their work. That said, we always leave a few residencies open for artists with whom we have no previous connection. The application is less about a specific project they wish to do while they’re here and more about what’s behind their practice.

What effect has the Fountainhead Residency had on the Miami art community? We’re very proud to have been able to support many museums, local non-profits, galleries and artists in a time when Miami is growing as an internationally recognized art community. We were also here during the downturn in the economy when funding was a real challenge. Generally speaking, we’ve created exhibition opportunities for both visiting and Miami-based artists, helped institutions realize exhibitions, supported our local galleries, fostered critical dialogue in the community and built relationships with an incredible group of people.

You form relationships with the artists you work with—can you tell us about the most meaningful? Each of the artists has changed or influenced our lives in some way. Without the intent in mind, we built a global family. Artists and friends reach out to us when they’re moving or traveling to a new city because there’s no better way to get to know a city than through the people that live there. We rarely take a trip that doesn’t involve visiting artists that have been to the residency.

The most meaningful aspect of the residency for us personally is what it has given to our children. They’ve met artists from around the world who share with our kids their experiences, ways of life and influences. That education is priceless and my heart aches each time an artist leaves.

For the artists, it’s created long-term friendships that would likely have never happened otherwise. Where else do you as an adult live with strangers and see someone every day in their pjs, in their studio and at the dinner table? This summer has been incredible—over the last two months we’ve had artists from Havana, New York City, Philadelphia, San Salvador and Tel Aviv.

With over 40 artists working there at any one time, what is the atmosphere like at the Fountainhead Studios? The studios have an energy that is palbable when you enter. The artists are great people at the core and very respectful of one another. You can imagine with that many personalities, anything can happen. It’s really been quite beautiful. We have artists of all ages, at different points in their careers, and with vastly different life experiences. They feed off one another. They share new materials or new ways to use traditional materials. They brainstorm and problem solve together. They lend a hand, make introductions, and provide a mental break when needed. It’s a very productive and engaging environment.

We open the studios to the public twice a year. During our last event more than 400 people attended. Seeing inside an artist’s studio is a very unique opportunity as it personalizes art and offers a rare opportunity to talk one-on-one with an artist. During these evenings I can’t stop smiling. I feel honored to be surrounded by such talented individuals.

What is it about Miami that fosters this kind of artistic environment and supports a program like yours? The people—plain and simple. The climate, natural beauty and light certainly play a valuable role but that’s obvious. Miami often gets a bad rap for being superficial and shallow but that couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re still very young as a city and because of that we need to work together to grow. At the end of each artist’s residency we schedule studio visits by curators, museum staff, gallery owners, artists and collectors. We’ve been told by many of our artists that here they have received more critical feedback during their residency than in the last five years at home. This dialogue and feedback is crucial to the growth of an artist and the development of their work. To have this done by respected people in the community is invaluable.

Where are some of your favorite dining spots in Miami for a big night out? For cocktails? For a local, casual meal? We’re big supporters of local talent. We love Michael’s Genuine, The Cypress Room and Harry’s Pizzeria by Michael Schwartz. Oolite by Kris Wessel. Blue Collar and Mignonette by Danny Serfer and Ryan Roman. Yardbird and Khong River by John Kunkle. Michy’s by Michelle Bernstein. For cocktails, don’t miss The Broken Shaker at Freehand Miami by the Bar Lab, Elad Zvi and Gabriel Orta.

Which Miami neighborhood is the next "hot" destination? I’m lucky to say it’s where we’ve been living and working for years. The Upper East side; the MIMO district along Biscayne and Little River/Little Haiti where The Fountainhead Studios has been located for 6 years. Areas like The Design District, Wynwood and Downtown, all which are within five miles of our home, residency and studios, are well into their transformation and already clearly on the map.

Published onSeptember 17, 2014

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