Spotlight / Institutions
The Downtown Arts + Science Salon (DASS)
Exploring the art of conversation, by Aurea Veras.
Downtown Miami has changed from a business and bureaucratic center that went to sleep at 5 pm to a vibrant entertainment hub, but Downtowners don’t have many opportunities to gather for conversation with neighbors and develop a sense of community.
The Downtown Arts + Science Salon was created to fill that void. It is, in effect, an opportunity to meet fellow downtown residents for conversation over a glass of wine. Cofounder Marc Schmidt put it: “To take a break from virtual reality and reconnect with real people.”
DASS is a combination of TED Talks and a local Social Club — in the historical sense, a meeting place for exchanging ideas on scientific innovations, books, art, technological trends… A bit vague?
“One Salon was organized around how emotions influence laws. If enough people in a particular place share the emotion of disgust, it can be enacted into law. Evolutionary psychologist Debra Lieberman led this contentious discussion, drawing on her book Objection, published by Oxford University Press. You get a group of neighbors talking about issues that are important not only to academics but for everyday life. A majority group, based on emotions, for example, can enact laws criminalizing homosexuality,” Academic Director and founder Raul Guerrero illustrates the concept.
Salons draw 25 or 150 attendees, ages fluctuating from 25 to 60. That’s another characteristic DASS promotes, diversity — financial, occupational, generational, and ethnic. A physicist sits next to a painter, a waiter next to a lawyer, etc.
Leafing through the catalog, another SALON catches my eye, Literature & Jazz. Transforming the written word into jazz renditions and dramatic readings. DASS, in partnership with the Olympia Theater, invited local writers, famous and aspiring, to collaborate with excerpts from works on progress, and commissioned jazz musicians to interpret those excerpts. And actors dramatized the pieces, creating a dialogue of artistic genres.
One of the participants was Patricia Engle. The New York Times commented on Ms. Engle’s work: “Sumptuous… To immerse oneself in Engel’s prose is to surrender to a seductive embrace…” She said of DASS: “ It was a beautiful experience to watch such talented actors and musicians bring our stories to life in a new way.”
And The Florida Book Review observed: “Drawing on the concept of the salon, which flourished during the European Enlightenment and enjoyed a heyday during the Parisian jazz age of Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, DASS stages discussions ranging from science to literature and music. “
Marc Schmidt reminiscences how distinguished physicist Peter Markowitz and artist Xavier Cortada helped us unlock the mysteries of the universe… “They explained why we are not drifting away in space. Dr. Markowitz and DASS member, professor emeritus of physics Stephan Linn, were part of a team working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) that proved the existence of the Higgs Boson, the particle that gives mass, as we know it, to all other mass particles. The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded because of that work.”
Raul Guerrero adds: “We believe in forming partnerships with local cultural organizations. The Downtown Neighbors Alliance, DNA, the preeminent civic and cultural organization that groups most residential towers in the downtown proper, and DASS have staged media salons to inform the media, including the Miami Herald and NBC/Telemundo about the area’s pressing issues. Likewise, we have organized political salons with Mayor Francis Suarez and Commissioner Ken Russell. More recently, we partnered to present the first edition of Shakespeare in Bayfront Park for children, a resounding success that brought together hundreds of delighted kids and their families. And, coming up on July 11, DASS has partnered with Magic City Opera to present a mesmerizing evening of opera, zarzuela, Broadway musical theater, featuring the acclaimed Youth Orchestra of Uruguay together with world-renowned soprano María Antunez and tenor Martín Nusspaumer. What a perfect combination, youth at the historic Olympia Theater.”
The Origins DASS started 5 years ago at CU-1 Gallery. Then, when the building was sold, the business model changed for the better. Downtown became the campus. Salons take place in downtown iconic venues, from the historic Olympia Theater, Books & Books and the gorgeous DuPont to Mana Contemporary and Miami Dade College, as well as jazz clubs such as Le Chat Noir and residential buildings.
DASS was founded in 2014 by novelist and journalist Raul Guerrero and Marc Schmidt, a cardiologist and award-winning photographer. Raul Guerrero is the author of the novel WOMEN LOVE DR. BOLL, and co-wrote Cronica del CORAZON, a mini-encyclopedia of the heart in Spanish, with Dr. Mauro Moscucci, former Chairman of Medicine at the University of Miami and Chief of Cardiology. He collaborates with publications worldwide on culture, language, and science, and is the Editor of Downton News. Marc Schmidt’s photography won first prize at the Miami History Museum’s Street Photography Festival. More recently he was the official photographer for the acclaimed movie The Florida Project, for which its protagonist Willem Dafoe was nominated for the Oscar.
Said Guerrero: “At the risk of sounding pompous, we do aspire to help foster a downtown sense of neighborhood through the exchange of ideas.”
A Word on SALONS
Salons evolved in Paris and other cities in Europe and America as an alternative to universities and over rigorous scientific academies. “The likes of Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin were regulars at Salons, and firm believers that knowledge and pleasure — food, wine and a little flirting, a word derived from the French word for throwing flowers — were not incompatible, on the contrary, they complemented one another, “observed Guerrero.
Consequently, the Miami New Times had to say about DASS: “The best Place in Miami to met intelligent women.”
Aurea Veras writes about food and culture. She loves to dance and photography.