We had the good fortune of connecting with Gina Cunningham and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gina, how do you think about risk?
Creatives entrepreneurs pioneering innovation, record-breaking athletes, and courageous individuals putting their lives in danger while saving others are universally respected and admired. As a society, we celebrate the out-of-the ordinary achieved by risk-taking. Decisions I made long ago to spend my life pursuing creative fields means I’m a risk taker too. When I opened Tap Tap restaurant and art gallery in Miami Beach in the 1990’s, I took risks. Tap Tap became an instant success; despite the fact that many were initially skeptical of Tap Tap’s unusual concept combined with it’s seedy location. Open for 24 years, the iconic restaurant became a popular, well known, international tourist destination. After I left Tap Tap, I taught for over a decade. Teaching was risky because my pay was inadequate. I was learning to teach on the job and often my early attempts did not work out as planned. I re-trained my ego to value the knowledge I gained from failing. From that personal struggle, I learned to tell my art students to “just try it”. I let them know they should never be afraid to take risks because of the likelihood of failure. After teaching, I sought a career in the visual arts at an older age. Artists have no job security, health insurance, guaranteed future and no promise of financial gain. Choosing this a career seemed irresponsible and possibly insane. Artists have no idea if they’ll ever see a return on an investment of considerable time, wild enthusiasm and significant money. Purchasing supplies and investing in pricey art materials might result in financial loss. But I chose to risk it and started working as an artist. Before my solo exhibition in 2017 at Under the Bridge Project Studios in North Miami opened I no idea if people would attend my opening. It felt scary to create large installations and put them out there for the world to see. I risked negative criticism for work I poured my heart and soul into. Despite my fears, the exhibition went well and opened to more press attention then ever for that venue. After this experience, I decided that risk taking is not only acceptable, it is desirable. In 2019, I switched my form of expression yet again, at an even older age and began work on my first- time documentary film project profiling my great aunt who was assassinated by the mafia. I’ve come to the conclusion that risk taking and even failure are part of my artistic process that I hope will lead to more fantastic discoveries in the future. Risk is important to my journey as an artist.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My recent visual art projects address issues of immigration, water protection, feminism and disastrous climate change. My current project is a documentary film I am working on which is a curious exploration of my family’s mafia legacy from a feminist perspective.When I was still teaching, I sought out some challenging situations. I taught art to displaced teachers at universities in Haiti, after their devastating earthquake. I organized art classes in schools in India, one in a crowded slum and another in a Muslim school where girls have limited access to education. I am proud of my past endeavors. Professionally, I believe it’s better for me to generate creative projects outside of a museum, gallery or studio setting to reach all kinds of people. The path I have chosen has not been easy and doesn’t come with financial rewards. But I’ve learned that material gain is not what makes a person happy. Doing what you love to do, what you believe in and doing it to the best of your ability is what matters. As a working artist, I hope I can contribute to solving the mounting problems we face. In these challenging and uncertain times an artist/activist can make positive change by using their unique voice to demand change.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
When a friend visits me in Miami, I always take them to the beach. My favorite beach is about 6 miles away from the well-publicized glitz and glamour of South Beach. The epicenter of North Shore Park is 83rd street and Collins Ave. This beachside recreation area boast the prettiest dog park I’ve ever seen. On weekdays, the beachfront is tranquil and often almost empty. The water is delightful the year round. There is a playground, picnic tables and barbecue grills. On the weekends the picnic areas are commandeered by families playing lively music. The recently renovated Bandshell venue, hosts reasonably priced or free events from salsa dance challenges to Afro Roots festivals. I kayak on one of the small canals in the same neighborhood, west of that beach. Kayaking on these lesser traveled waterways is a surprising experience. While gliding silently down the peaceful canal I can show off the variety of fish that populate the local waterways. Manta rays, manatees, white ibis, osprey sea eagles, cormorants, blue herons and anhinga are a few of the creatures you can see along these canals. Neighborhood kayaking is easier than a trip to the Everglades. But the Everglades does beckon, where I introduce my friends to the unique bike trail of Shark Valley. West of Miami and adjacent to the Miccosukee Indian Reservation, this 14 mile paved bike loop is located in a well-maintained National park. The bike trail makes for easy, flat riding when it’s not too hot. You often have to bike around large, scary alligators who nonchalantly block this one-of-a kind bike path. During the cool winter months, local bike clubs meet at the Shark Valley bike loop for enchanting moonlight rides. I also bring my friends to the Venetian Pool. The Venetian Pool is a beautiful aquatic facility and a main tourist attraction of Coral Gables. Created in 1923 from an ancient coral rock quarry, the pool is fed with refreshing spring water from an underground aquifer. There is a charming bridge. waterfalls, loggias, porticos and iconic palm trees. An unforgettable Miami experience for my out-of-town friends. I would bring my friends to the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) our contemporary, waterfront art museum dedicated to exhibiting modern and post-modern international art. Designed by prize-winning Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, the amazing outdoor plaza features dramatic views of Biscayne Bay and lush tropical vegetation. From the museum it’s not too far to Little Haiti, where the Creole dishes served at any of the mom & pop restaurants located there will surprise my friends with sophisticated spices and exotic flavors. I would teach my friend “se Koupe dwèt” the Haitian Creole expression for “delicious, tasty and finger-licking good”. And of course I wouldn’t be a good friend if I didn’t treat my visitor to the syrupy Cuban coffee you can find anywhere in Miami. No visit to Miami is complete without Cuban coffee.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My daughters deserve a shout out when telling my story. Becoming a mom meant giving up living a self-absorbed life. The love I immediately felt for my daughters was unconditional. Motherhood changed me instantly and I began to work hard to the best of my ability, despite life’s myriad challenges. And after raising these fragile beings, they became grown-ups who are smarter than me.