Floor plan

Miami Art Group Locust Projects Moves to Little River Warehouse

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

Courtesy of Locust Projects

Locust projects‘The Design District location has seen it all in the past two decades: indoor pools with synchronized swimmers; dirt dump trucks; hammered floors; working ovens and a hanging garden.

Miami’s oldest alternative art space announced Wednesday that the organization will be moving into a warehouse in Little River that’s double the size of its current location. The new building, at 297 NE 67th St., will open in February, just in time for the association’s 25th anniversary.

The local arts group will use the empty 8,000 square foot warehouse as a big blank canvas for artists to (literally) get on with doing whatever they want.

“We were really thrilled 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 its move to Little River. Arts nonprofit Oolite Arts will open its new state-of-the-art headquarters in the neighborhood by 2024, less than a mile from Locust Projects’ new space.

The non-profit organization is a unique arts incubator and gallery space in Miami, providing pro bono legal services for artists and public programs. It was founded by artists for artists in 1998 as a space to showcase ambitious and innovative works that commercial galleries and museums would never approve of. The nonprofit promotes a “yes culture” that seeks to support artists in their endeavors, even if that means taking a jackhammer to the ground or building an above-ground swimming pool.

“Our spaces are not meant to be valuable,” Mertes said. “We are not a museum with immaculate walls and floors.”

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

This makes an old warehouse the ideal solution. Locust Projects is just too big for its first home in the Design District, Mertes said.

The original location is in an old building with a history of termites, a leaky roof, and dodgy air conditioning. Another concern was the amount of space, or lack thereof, for people to experience the art in all its alternative glory. Mertes recalled an event where people crowded into the lobby to watch musicians perform a duet on a joint violin. Of course, the AC is dead.

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

“Being able to really be a welcoming and functional space for artists to do these projects while also being a public gathering space is going to be a game-changer for us,” Mertes said.

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

Mertes said she is planning a series of meetings with the local artist community to discuss how the space could be built and used in the future. The nonprofit is also planning a “housewarming” fundraiser where the public can get a glimpse of the new space on November 12.

“There is so much potential,” she added.

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

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

“Locust Projects occupies a unique place in the South Florida arts ecosystem as a creative incubator supporting the production of experimental new work and introducing the community to the creative process,” said Victoria Rogers, vice president of arts at the Knight Foundation. “We are excited about the continued evolution of Locust Projects and how this new home will expand its ability to accelerate careers and increase access to the work of star artists.”

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

In 2016, after submitting an application to the Locust Projects open call, Wright was able to bring “an idea alive in my notebook” to life. She created “Under the water there was sand, then rocks, miles of rocks, then fire,” a cinematic and visual installation with a floating maze of jasmine flowers that bloom at night.

Most museums have a “no no” policy when it comes to installing live plants, Wright said. But at Locust Projects, “you are allowed to take risks” to realize your vision.

The unique exposure 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 programming.

“It’s a special place,” she says.

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

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