“It’s a Miami Thing” Exhibition at HistoryMiami Opens July 29, 2021

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A vintage sign from the Burdines department store.

Photo courtesy HistoryMiami

Empty walls form the second floor of the HistoryMiami Museum. Soon these walls will be covered in fresh paint and soaked in so much Miami history that you will have to plan a few hours to visit.

On Thursday, July 29th, the museum’s newest exhibit, It’s a Miami Thing, will open, commemorating the city’s 125th anniversary.

What makes this particular exhibit unique is that it features some never-before-seen artifacts and items from their permanent collection that have not yet been on display on this scale. Also, the museum staff did not put the exhibition together as the sole curator, which makes it a truly collaborative effort.

Michael Knoll, director of curatorial affairs and chief curator of the museum, walks across the room and moves to the bare platforms as he describes what is about to be shown. While waving his hands it’s almost like holding a magic wand and it’s easy to imagine the rich story he’s talking about. His voice echoes into the empty room and builds up picture by picture with every word.

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“We have an ongoing show on the ground floor that includes some of [these same Miami stories], but we’ve never done anything like this, ”he says.

“It’s a Miami Thing” will take up most of the museum’s second floor. When guests enter through the stairwell, they will see a magnificent sign that spells out the title of the exhibition. The five neon letters that spell out Miami are actually part of the original Miami Theater marquee that hung on the side of 777 International Mall on Flagler Street. HistoryMiami acquired the sign and had it renovated so it shines as brightly as it did in 1948.

Around the large introductory piece there are boxes with pieces of textile and old archaeological finds. One such piece is a glitzy yellow cloak that once belonged to famous Puerto Rican astrologer and pop culture icon Walter Mercado – very Miami thing.

Directly behind it is the sign for the Burdines department store. This is the first time the full shield has been seen. The recognizable singular blue B has already been shown in a handful of exhibitions.

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Treasure from the Atocha shipwreck.  - PHOTO WITH FRIENDLY STORY EMIAMI

Treasure from the Atocha shipwreck.

Photo courtesy HistoryMiami

“Some of the things we exhibit we won’t exhibit often,” says Knoll. “I like the idea that we can do more pieces to tell more Miami stories and to connect even more with the audience. That is a nice feature of this exhibition. ”

There are different areas throughout the exhibition, including an area dedicated to aviation – complete with a large Pan Am sign – and another platform with maritime objects, including a large airboat. Other areas are devoted to journalism, folk objects and an almost hidden archive area full of photographs, maps and the like. Some pieces in this section are so old and fragile that they are not displayed physically but rather through a projection on the wall. One of these pieces is an original map of the city from around 1905.

Knoll names the two main objectives of the exhibition, to present the highlights of the museum’s collection and to inspire the community.

“The general purpose of our collection work is to build this collection – to build it up, maintain it, and make it available to the public,” he says. “We like to think of them [museum’s] Collection as the collection of the community. ”

Many of the pieces currently on display or on display in one of the museum’s many storage rooms were actually donations from local residents, such as a large farm store cow sign that was blown from a shop window during Hurricane Andrew. It was donated to the museum in 2017 – just in time for the exhibition “Hurricane Andrew: 25 Years Later”.

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Tequesta artifacts

Photo courtesy HistoryMiami

After visiting It’s a Miami Thing, you may find that you have a thing or two at home that may have cultural or historical significance. HistoryMiami always collects and accepts donations. You can fill out a donation form online and maybe one day a small piece of your personal heritage will be displayed for all of Miami.

Part of the exhibit includes an interactive section where guests can share their answer to the question “What’s your Miami thing?” can record on video. The answers are automatically uploaded to the gallery and immediately become part of the exhibition.

Much of this exhibit explores what makes Miami unique and engages with the community at the same time, Knoll explains.

“We want to believe that engaging with our history – engaging with the cultural traditions of our community and all the things that make Miami the place it is – brings people together,” added the curator.

“They will think about themselves, they will think about their stories in the community, they will think about the stories of others in the community, they will connect in this place. And hopefully that will awaken a feeling of belonging to this place. ”

“It’s a Miami thing.” Opens Thursday, July 29, and runs through Sunday, January 9, 2022 at HistoryMiami, 101 W. Flagler St., Miami; 305-375-1492; geschichtemiami.org. Tickets are $ 10.

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