By GRAHAM REID
When it is time to get away from the beach or pool, or the taste of Bacardi wears thin and another cigar seems just too indulgent, Miami offers yet another pleasant surprise.
Who would have thought that this city of beachlife hedonism, Caribbean cruises and self-pampering could be home to such a diversity of art and galleries?
Yet in the centre of Lincoln Rd Mall – the upmarket pedestrian mall which runs diagonal to South Beach north of the Art Deco District – is the gallery which changed the face of this part of town.
The ArtCenter/South Florida at 924 Lincoln Rd was established in 1984 when this part of the road was shabby and underused, and property values were low.
Driven by the vision of artist Ellie Schneiderman, who saw potential in the cheap, dilapidated buildings, the ArtCenter acquired finance to buy properties and create a resident artist's colony with storefront spaces for galleries and studios.
The arrival of the artists – some 70 are in residence – drove the revitalisation of Lincoln Rd and in 1986 the city recognised the success of the ArtCentre by designation a three-block areas as the Lincoln Rd Arts District.
Today it is home to numerous other galleries as well as the Miami City Ballet, New World Symphony, the Colony Theatre and the Area Stage; and to Britto Central, the gallery of work by Brazilian Romero Britto whose bright and bold painting make him the Ken Done of Miami.
The ArtCentre now has two major buildings on Lincoln Rd with plans for expansion of the artists' spaces and public galleries.
The centre welcomes visitors, offers art classes for all ages and displays work of local children who have attended classes and the various art camps the centre runs. Every second Saturday from 7pm the public is invited to wander through the studios, talk with artists and view new works.
Around greater Miami are galleries, artist's colonies and museums.
East of Downtown, Coral Gables is another brainchild of Schneiderman, Miami ArtWorks Inc, yet another mall space of studios and galleries.
Within an easy 10-minute walk from Lincoln Rd is the Wolfsonian at 1001 Washintong Ave, a museum established in 1986 to promote, collect and preserve art and design from the period 1885 to 1945.
Located in the heart of the Art Deco District and housed in a magnificent, appropriately solid-looking building. The Wolfsonian collection of futurist and deco posters, furniture, painting and design has to be counted a major treat for even the most casual of Art Tourists.
The Bass Museum of Art which recently mounted an extensive exhibition of Roy Lichtenstein paintings – just north of Lincoln Rd is another gallery worth attention, as is the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, an easy 20 minute Bus trip up the coast past magnificent and historic deco hotels.
North Miami is also home to internationally recognised Brazilian sculptor Eduardo Da Rosa whose studio gallery – open to the public – is the hub of a vital warehouse community of artists.
Around South Beach and Miami are galleries which explore Florida's past (Historical Museum of Southern Florida), Jewish history (Ziff Jewish Museum) and contemporary collections (Rubell Family Connection, which has works from 1975 to present day).
There are others with permanent exhibits of Italian Renaissance painting and Greco-Roman antiquities (Lowe Art Museum, the Vizcaya Museum and Garden) and cutting-edge contemporary work often rendered in hard, bright colours reflecting the light and vibrancy of Florida.
There are Cuban and Haitian galleries, and in Coral Gardens is what is considered some of the finest Latin American art in the world.
The city offers several gallery walks, one of the most enjoyable being on the first Friday of every month when, for three and a half hours from 7pm, buses transport visitors between 11 separate galleries around Coral Gables.
Miami is proud of its art and a visit to www.miamiandbeaches.com in advance of any trip to this relaxed city is recommended.
And when you are there and have had your fill of all that which nourishes the soul, you can confidently get back to Bacardi and cigars, the beach and boardwalk, assuring your guilty self it wasn't all doing nothing under a clear sky and you have explored the artistic culture of a captivating city.
Graham Reid travelled to Florida courtesy of United Airlines
Getting There: Daily from Auckland via Los Angeles with Air New Zealand ($242), Qantas ($2539), United Airlines ($2465), American Airlines ($2862).
Best Time to Go: They don't call it the Sunshine State for nothing. Weather in Miami is consistently fine and clear. December to March are peak periods when it's warm and dry, June to October you may hit the occasional shower.
What's On: Visit www.flausa.com for itinerary ideas but also consider hiring a car to make the leisurely day trip to Jimmy Buffett's margarita bar and the Hemmingway house in Key West. Excellent diving, Nearby Key Biscayne offers a state recreation area (birds, mangroves, historic lighthouse) or drive north to Fort Lauderdale and Orlando (and the various Disney complexes).
Costs: Collins Ave and Ocean Drive, which run parallel to Miami Beach, are lined with expensive hotels like Loews and Delano. You are waving goodbye to $US300 to$US700 ($625 to $1458) for a couple of summer nights in these places. All have pools and most have beach frontage.
In the Art Deco District, or a few streets back from the front, are much more, modestly priced places at $US45 to $US150 ($93 to $312).
By GRAHAM REID