By Florence Beth Snyder
Before it was home to the fourth-largest university in the United States, the 344-acre main campus at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami was a general aviation airport and miles away from anything for tourists to see or do.
It took imagination and a pioneer spirit in 1965 to envision a University Park where 55,000 students pursue higher education at the Crossroads of the Americas. It also took a sense of humor.
When FIU’s founding President Charles Perry set up shop in the abandoned airport tower, it had no telephones, no drinking water and no furniture. Perry rebranded the building “The Ivory Tower” and it still stands on a lushly landscaped campus amidst close to 100 buildings, all fully equipped with furniture, water and a meaty menu for connoisseurs of culture.
One of FIU’s treasures is the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum, Miami’s only visual arts venue that is also an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and one of only two Florida arts institutions with works chosen for inclusion in the Google Art Project.
The 46,000-square-foot lakeside building was designed by renowned architect Yann Weymouth. A breathtaking three-story glass atrium entrance and suspended staircase are reason enough to visit. But you’ll need comfortable shoes and plenty of time to explore all that the Frost has to offer.
The permanent collection occupies three galleries and features the Miami Metropolitan Museum and Art Center Collection, with its dazzling array of sculptures, photographs and paintings by major 20th century figures; an extensive collection of American prints from the 1960s; rare Japanese Netsukes and ancient bronzes from Asian and African cultures.
The Kenan-Flagler Family Discovery Gallery satisfies even the most sophisticated museum-goers and charms young children with hands-on challenges such as building your own sculpture from large, interlocking shapes, or using a touch screen monitor to create a self portrait.
Admission to the Frost’s galleries is free, and its outdoor sculpture garden is a relaxing and romantic place to visit, day or night. Enjoy the weather and take in the works of noteworthy sculptors including Anthony Caro, Jacques Lipchitz, Daniel Joseph Martinez and Tony Rosenthal.
The university also welcomes visitors to the Wolfsonian-FIU museum, located in the heart of the Miami Beach Art Deco district. The Wolfsonian is a tribute to the innovations in art and design from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. Its vast collection helps visitors understand the period between the Industrial Revolution and World War II through close encounters with the everyday objects that filled the homes and workplaces of our recent ancestors.
The Wolfsonian is especially known for its artifacts representing the British Arts & Crafts movement, as well as Dutch and Italian variants of the Art Nouveau style. Students of history and politics are drawn to the Wolfsonian's collection of propaganda from the two World Wars and the Spanish Civil War.
For a more tactile experience, come on a Friday night when the Wolfsonian hosts its popular Sketching in the Galleries event. The museum provides aspiring artists of all ages and skill levels with sketching paper, pencils, stools to sit on and guidance from a master teacher.
FIU’s Miami Beach Urban Studios is less than a mile away from the Wolfsonian. The iconic art deco building has been repurposed to afford students the chance to work with cutting edge public, private and nonprofit organizations.
Back at the main campus, the Avenue of the Arts connects the Frost Museum to the Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Performing Arts Center, where FIU’s theater and music students hone their crafts.
Everybody knows that Miami is a sound machine, and the locals will tell you that the Wertheim's 300-seat theater and 750-seat concert hall are perfect places to catch the beat. An infinite variety of world music is performed on FIU’s main campus, as well as its satellite campuses. Jazz at the Wertheim and Jewish Life Through Music are just two examples. Go online for a deep dive into FIU’s concert offerings and hear for yourself why FIU was selected as Miami’s host for the prestigious International GuitART Festival.
FIU’s Wertheim Conservatory, a moist and evergreen paradise of rare plants, features mosses and vegetation that typically develop on the saddles of mountains, where moisture introduced by settling clouds is effectively retained. Save yourself the climb and take the Wertheim self-guided tour.
The Sky Lounge is the triumphant result of collaboration among students and faculty in FIU’s architecture, landscape and interior design departments. Once barren and a tad forbidding, the courtyard of the Deuxieme Maison building is now a warm and welcoming place to relax and reflect in custom-designed steel lounge chairs. The eye is drawn to upward to the three stainless steel nets hung with more than 3,000 air plants. Blue flowering vines cover the first two floors of the building, and the ground floor is covered with tiny flecks of recycled blue glass.
Between the Ryder Business Building building and the Green Library, are the Turtle Pond and the Kissing Bridge. FIU tradition holds that couples who share a kiss at that location will remain together forever.
If you go…
Florida International University
11200 SW 8th St, Miami, Fla 33199
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