This past Thursday, May 11, an art collective called Casa Crea celebrated its 27th event with an open lounge in an Edgewater warehouse. About 30 artists – all of whom had responded to a call on Instagram – gathered to make art that was different from what some folks at the gathering called “the macho, homophobic world” of Miami art in an old warehouse.
The warehouse just off NE Second Avenue was warm and inviting. The organizers filled the space with art supplies, blankets and throw pillows. Artists were encouraged to sit on the floor and paint. Some veterans of the event sat in a circle, collaborating and talking about life, art and the pursuit of happiness.
Casa Crea debuted on March 21 of last year. Created by founders Philip Capuzzi, Samantha Herrera, Lunes Oña Pérez, Kennedy Ramsarran and Drew Deng, the collective was created to provide an alternative to the existing underground art scene, which they said is predominately made up of cisgender men.
The collective has slowly grown in popularity. It started as tiny gatherings in backyards with just a few people making art or chatting with others. The May 11 event was sponsored by Liquid Death, a canned water brand whose tagline is “murder your thirst.”
Casa Crea stresses the importance of a safe space. Another competing art collective, Art Club Forever, was heavily criticized last year after a woman was allegedly attacked and gay peole were harassed.
“I was a consistent attendee of Art Club Forever,” said Ramsarran, another co-founder of Casa Crea. “I would go there every Thursday to support and create art until I found out about the consistent instances of femmes being uncomfortable.”
In the gay community, the term “femme” refers to a lesbian woman who presents in a traditionally feminine way.
According to Ramsarran, male attendees would invade spaces in which they were unwelcome, possibly as an attempt to pick up girls. She would receive complaints from multiple femmes on her Instagram of severe harassment and alleged sexual abuse that would happen to the community.
“I contacted one of the organizers,” Ramsarran continues. “Her solution was to talk to the abuser and let him know that his behavior would be unacceptable in this space. He was still permitted to attend the events, while the victim was never seen again.”
Art Club Forever released a statement on social media days after the incident.
“We encourage positive interactions and will not tolerate harmful behavior of any kind,” it said. “Please be kind to each other and protect one another. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, body shaming, sexually harassing, and any other hateful conduct is forbidden. Anyone acting inappropriately will be removed from the premises.”
It implemented security checks after the incident, like checking for identification, in an effort to ensure that the incident wouldn’t happen again. Yet, after two weeks, they stopped enforcing the measures, according to Ramsarran.
A retweet by the organization mocked the incident, in which the original author of the tweet said: “Art club is not the police department.”
Many called for the boycott of the art event through Instagram. The community was in disbelief at the lack of responsibility over the grave situation. They were angry, and felt even unsafe. They no longer had a space to practice their art without limits or judgment.
But with the creation of Casa Crea, safety is their top priority. Artists can unite and practice their diverse crafts harmoniously.
“It feels less like an event based around capitalism and money,” said Whitney Paige, an attendee and local artist. “This is more about making a community.”
Paige touts Casa Crea as a place where she can go to enjoy making art again. After spending most of her life working in the corporate world, Paige was ready for a more creative endeavor. In 2020, she went viral on TikTok, giving her the confidence to pursue her art full-time. Art being her main source of income has led to some creative fatigue for Paige.
She struggles with the balance of making art that pays the bills and creating art that enriches her as an artist. At Casa Crea, monetization is left at the warehouse door, which is why Paige foresees herself coming back to more events.
“I get really stressed about [painting],” she says. “Having a space just to come and doodle brings you back to why you wanted to be an artist in the first place.”
Herrera joined Casa Crea later in their development. She created her own t-shirts and often crossed paths with Deng when they were vending their art. Her involvement in the event was minimal in the beginning. She was a regular attendee who volunteered to clean up after events ended. She befriended Deng and the other founders pretty quickly. Soon after, Herrera became a co-founder and made it her mission to ensure Casa Crea was a space that fostered the creation of beautiful, authentic art.
She recalled when she first joined Casa Crea, as she “knew [she] cared about the people in the community.”
Deng, co-founder of Casa Crea and a recent FIU grad, gave a more terse description; “We’re just a bunch of gay people who give a f***.”
Casa Crea’s next event is 786 film festival being held at The Bridge on Friday May 26, 2023.
Correction: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect spelling of Philip Capuzzi’s name