“A game changer.” This Miami alternative arts non-profit is moving to Little River – Miami Herald | Candle Made Easy

Lorie Mertes, executive director of arts organization Locust Projects, in front of the group's new Little River location.

Lorie Mertes, executive director of arts organization Locust Projects, in front of the group’s new Little River location.

Courtesy of Locust Projects

Locust Projects’ Design District site has seen it all over the past two decades: indoor pools with synchronized swimmers; earth dump truck; jackhammer floors; working kilns and a hanging garden.

Miami’s longest-running alternative art space announced Wednesday that the organization will be relocating to a warehouse in Little River that’s twice the size of its current location. The new building at 297 NE 67th St. will open in February, just in time for the nonprofit organization’s 25th anniversary.

The local art group will use the 8,000 square foot empty warehouse as a large blank canvas on which artists can continue to (literally) do whatever they want.

“We were really excited when we found this space,” said Lorie Mertes, Executive Director of Locust Projects. The larger space will allow the group to expand its mission to serve both artists and audiences, she said.

Locust Projects is the latest art group to announce their move to Little River. Non-profit organization Oolite Arts will open its new state-of-the-art neighborhood headquarters by 2024, less than a mile from Locust Projects’ new premises.

The nonprofit organization is a unique Miami arts incubator and gallery space that offers free legal advice to artists and public programs. It was founded in 1998 by artists for artists to present ambitious and innovative works that commercial galleries and museums would never sanction. The nonprofit promotes a “culture of yes” that seeks to support artists in their endeavors, even if it means putting a jackhammer on the ground or building an above-ground pool.

“Our rooms shouldn’t be expensive,” said Mertes. “We are not a museum with immaculate walls and floors.”

Lorie Mertes Executive Director Locust Projects in 297 NE 67th St_interior_photo by Pedro Wazzan.jpg
Lorie Mertes, executive director of arts organization Locust Projects, at the group’s new Little River location. Pedro Wazzan Courtesy of Locust Projects

A former warehouse fits perfectly. Locust Projects just outgrew its first home in the Design District, Mertes said.

The original setting is in an old building with a history of termites, a leaking roof, and seedy air conditioning. Another issue was the amount of space, or lack thereof, for people to experience the art in its full, alternative glory. Mertes recalled an event where people crowded into the front lobby to watch musicians perform a duet on a joined fiddle. Of course the AC died.

Although the location served them well, the lease was coming to an end anyway, Mertes said. It was time for a change.

“Being able to really be a welcoming and functional space for artists to bring these projects to life and be a place for public gatherings will be a game changer for us,” Mertes said.

Little River’s gleaming white corner unit offers nothing but space. The new building has an open floor plan, 17-foot ceilings, and access to a large, fenced-in outdoor courtyard that can host events, art exhibits, and performances.

Mertes said she is planning a series of get togethers with the local artist community to discuss how the space can be expanded and used in the future. The non-profit organization is also planning a “housewarming” fundraiser where the public can get a sneak peek at the new space on November 12.

“There’s so much potential,” she added.

In the meantime, the Design District site remains open and free to the public. On November 19, the space will open two exhibitions: “ule ole allez” by Ronny Quevedo and “Room for the living / Room for the dead” by T. Eliott Mansa.

The move was supported by a grant from Locust Projects board member and philanthropist Diane “Dede” Moss and a five-year, $1 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

“Locust Projects holds a unique place in the South Florida arts ecosystem as a creative incubator that supports the production of experimental new work and engages the community in the creative process,” said Victoria Rogers, vice president of arts at the Knight Foundation. “We are excited by the ongoing development of Locust Projects and how this new home will expand its ability to accelerate careers and increase access to the work of featured artists.”

Artist and Locust Projects board member Antonia Wright said the new space will benefit the careers of emerging artists in Miami.

After submitting an application for Locust Projects’ open call in 2016, Wright was able to bring to life “an idea that lives in my notebook.” She created Under the water was sand, then rocks, miles of rocks, then fire, a film- and sight-specific installation featuring a floating labyrinth of night-blooming jasmine flowers.

Most museums have a “no-no policy” when it comes to installing living plants, Wright said. But at Locust Projects, “you’re allowed to take risks” to achieve your vision.

The unique exhibition had a positive impact on Wright’s career, she said. Now she looks forward to Locust Projects reaching more artists and community members through its programs.

“It’s a special place,” she said.

This story was produced as part of an independent journalism grant program with financial support from the Pérez Family Foundation in association with Journalism Funding Partners. The Miami Herald retains full editorial control of this work.

This story was originally published Sep 21, 2022 6:12 p.m.

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