A delegation from the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce led by its President and CEO, Jerry Libbin, recently visited Shanghai to forge new relationships using Art Deco Architecture as a catalyst to attract Chinese tourists. The plan is to bring a photography exhibition comparing the Art Deco Architecture of Shanghai and Miami Beach (currently on display at the Miami International Airport) to Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport, thereby generating additional press and exchanges.
Jerry Libbin, who is also a Miami Beach Commissioner said, “By using one of unique assets-our historic architecture-we can create a tale of two cities that is newsworthy.”
The Art Deco Architectural exchange is the brainchild of Miami Beach preservationists Don and Nina Worth, who began the program to link the two cities in 2005. In 2007, they worked with Deke Erh, the first freelance photographer in all of China, who grew to treasure the Art Deco buildings of Shanghai and is documenting its ever-changing cityscape. Together they created the photography exhibit “Art Deco in Shanghai and Miami Beach” – 100 large scale photographs (50 of each city) – funded by Goldman Properties, LLC –as part of Art Deco Weekend 2007 themed, “East Meets West: Art Deco From Shanghai to Miami.” A delegation of 23 Chinese administrators, city planners and high level officials, had the opportunity to see and experience how Miami Beach uses the Art Deco historic district as an economic engine generating tourism.
We are pleased to report that five years later there are many more “historic plaques” and renovated art deco buildings like the Peace Hotel and districts like Xian Tian Di where old buildings have been retrofitted to create high end stores and restaurants so successful that to Xian Tian Di is now a verb!
Commissioner Libbin originally contributed to this initiative when he led a previous delegation to Shanghai. During this trip, the delegation visited with Deke Erh in their exchange in the fall of 2007, and was able to convince Hutchison Whampoa, a Hong Kong based conglomerate with active real estate interests in Shanghai, to provide partial funding for a book based on the photography exhibit. A true collaboration, “Art Deco in Shanghai and Miami Beach” documents all the magnificent photographs with historical text written by Deke’s partner on 20 books and legendary expatriate, Tess Johnston. Tess led the delegation on a remarkable historical tour through the Jewish section of old Shanghai which culminated at the Jewish Refugees Museum, formerly the Ohel Moishe Synagogue, a truly moving experience.
In 2008, the exhibit was shown at the Hutchison Whampoa Art Gallery in Shanghai. Currently, through the efforts of Jerry Libbin, the exhibit is in the North Terminal at Miami International Airport, where it is seen by approximately 50,000 people a day. “Now that we have placed the exhibit in a high traffic location in Miami, we will ask the Chinese to reciprocate and locate the exhibit in Shanghai as well,” said Libbin.
While in Shanghai, the delegation met with Chinese officials to discuss cultural exchange and tourism marketing opportunities, toured the extraordinary 2010 World Expo, and traveled to Zhu Jia Jiao, one of Shanghai’s famous “water towns.”
Perhaps the biggest booster of this initiative is the Chinese photographer Deke Erh, who pioneered transforming a dilapidated munitions factory into the Taiking Lu Arts and Crafts District in Shanghai. Erh is a big Art Deco fan and has visited Miami Beach a total of nine times. “Miami Beach and Shanghai, though different in size, have much in common” he says. “They are international cities and have a shared heritage of unique architecture. We should try to grow the bonds between our two cities.” Erh has contacts with the Shanghai Government and at the Pudong International Airport and hopes to bring the exhibit there. Because there are two sets of prints, the exhibit can be displayed simultaneously in Miami Beach and Shanghai, generating a foundation for additional press. At a meeting at Deke’s gallery, Commissioner Jerry Libbin and George Neary, VP of Cultural Tourism representing the Greater Miami Visitors and Convention Bureau (GMCVB), agreed to work with Deke to develop a proposal for the Mayor of Shanghai.
The potential for tourism from China is enormous, noted Rolano Aedo, Senior VP of GMCVB, who also joined the delegation on the trip. China is just beginning to open up for foreign travel, but in addition to a growing number of billionaires, they have a large middle class-almost 400 million people-who would like to travel. While in Shanghai, Aedo and Libbin met with an editor of the Chinese edition of Travel and Leisure Magazine to discuss the initiative.
“We are thrilled that Goldman Properties had the foresight to originally sponsor this project and that it has continued to evolve”, said Libbin. “That’s the way we can make progress in Miami Beach, if everyone works together.”