Our City Thoughts met up with the awesome Malik Benjamin, a curator of culture, innovation and commerce. He is also the founder of CreativeMornings Miami.
Among the many positive projects he is part of, CreativeMornings is a breakfast lecture series for the creative community. And we basically have loved all the ideas, breakfast treats, and people we have met at CMM. Read his Q&A.
Why did you create in Miami?
Fertile soil. I drove around Miami after Katrina and was amazed at how quickly the trees grew back. The electricity took a week to come on, the buildings took a year to repair, but the trees were back in a week. Somehow that translated to me. Ideas, creativity they bloom and blossom like trees and flowers if they are fertilized and nurtured
What does your organization do? How was it founded?
Think of it as a local morning mini-conference and inspirational community boost before work. Nothing fancy, just good people and a great talk plus free breakfast. We currently have 70 chapters and are opening 3 this month in Copenhagen, Charleston and Rio de Janeiro thanks to Shutterstock.
In the larger picture CreativeMornings was started by Tina Roth Eisenberg in September of 2008 out of the desire to create a casual, accessible event. In terms of the Miami story, we applied in January 2013 and I was interviewed at CreativeMornings HQ in New York in June 2013. I won the chapter in the room, met Tina, grabbed a bunch of free tats from Tattly, and flew back to Miami to get to work on our first event.
Describe a challenge you overcame.
The biggest challenge was doing the first event and having faith that it would be cool. We’re new here but half a decade old globally so there is this double edged sword of introducing something to an audience that has no idea what you’re about, while trying to live up to the history and reputation of the CreativeMornings brand. In both cases it’s about building trust and that alone, kept me up every night before each of the last six CreativeMornings/Miami events.
How did you end up collaborating with your team?
When I started this I had two great team members, Wifredo Fernandez from LABMiami and Bruce Pinchbeck from New World Symphony. I met Wifi during a Miami Fellows event and Bruce I met during the filming of a 48 hr film project. I simply sent them an email asking them if they wanted to collaborate and they both said, “Word, let’s do this!”.
We immediately added beautiful brains like Catalina Ayubi and Natalia Martinez who were key reasons our first event was such a great hit and set the standard for our subsequent events.
What does your team mean to you?
I have my hands in many pots and my head in many worlds but I can honestly say I love my CreativeMornings/Miami team.
I lose sleep every Thursday before CreativeMornings/Miami, and then I show up and see the team and feel immediately better. Or I contact them spontaneously and they say yes.
How has Miami impacted who you are today?
I am more willing to be carnivorous. Miami makes me feel free to eat everything I see and let my appetite and hunger be as robust as it wants. I think that goes back to Miami’s fertile creative soil which provides so much sustenance.
What do you love the most about how Miami is being redefined?
Meeting people who want to do. I get so bored hearing good ideas. Miami redefined is about doers, producers, creators, makers. If Jackie Sayet and Jessica Gross at Michael’s Genuine want to invite CreativeMornings back-kitchen to see the morning rituals of the chefs all it takes is three emails and then me, Catalina, Jackie and 17 chefs are in the kitchen at 8am engaging each other and getting the restaurant ready for lunch!
Describe an innovation advancement you are working on?
Personally I have a few things I’m working on, but in terms of CreativeMornings/Miami we are looking to do more demos. I really believe Miami is about making and we want CreativeMornings to be the place where makers are releasing video games, opening startup restaurants, et cetera.
What’s the most gratifying aspect of what you do? And the most grating?
When the talk is over at 9:45 and people are still talking to the guest speaker at 11am I love it because it shows investment by the community and the speaker. We once had a CEO who was kept pushing his board meeting to a later time because he refused to stop speaking to audience members. It drove his personal assistant crazy – I loved that!
Grating. We are all about creativity so each event is for everyone. However we’re still working on breaking the discipline driven audience meaning artists come when an artist speaks or scientists come when a scientist speaks. We want artists to show up when tech people speak and vice versa. We want everyone there every time. It’s an hour a month with breakfast free of charge, what do you have to lose!
What wisdom would you share with your younger self (maybe when you were 18)?
Move to Miami sooner.
What community issue, keeps you up at night?
Wage gaps and quality of life for middle to low wage workers. The majority of the people living in Miami are spending more than 30% of their income on housing and transportation. It’s completely unsustainable at the micro and macro level.
Describe your ideal Miami. Why are those qualities important to you?
My ideal Miami never grows up.
Right now Miami is in its teenage years, and every new coworking space or super conference like Art Basel, Ultra or Startup City is a dance or prom. My fear is that things will get boring. Sort of like every space that gets gentrified. We need to be the exception and find a newer cooler way to mature.