Miami is famous for a lot of things, but art wasn’t necessarily one of them—until Craig Robins went to work.
The son of a Miami Beach real estate developer, Robins cultivated his appreciation for art, architecture, and design while studying in Spain during college. Upon returning to his hometown, he started a company, Dacra, that focused at first on acquiring and preserving Art Deco buildings in South Beach. He then shifted his focus across Biscayne Bay, to the Miami Design District, a once-neglected area that he rehabilitated in a way that was both flashy (it’s now home to three Michelin-starred restaurants; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; and stores from Hermès, Dior, Cartier, and Louis Vuitton) and sustainable (it was the first neighborhood development in the world to earn LEED Gold Certification). “I have always had the perspective that art and design add value to the built environment,” Robins says, “and I have always been a staunch advocate for Miami.”
All the while, Robins was amassing an impressive art collection and forming relationships that helped him bring the art world to South Florida. He played a key role in convincing Art Basel’s then-director, Sam Keller, to begin staging an event in Magic City, and since its 2002 debut Art Basel Miami Beach has grown to become one of the world’s glitziest art fairs, drawing 81,000 people across four days in 2019. As visitors hop between galleries and parties at this year’s event (December 8–10), they’d do well to say a small thank-you to the man who made it possible.
On the family business:
“My father, Jerry Robins, has always been a great inspiration to me, both personally and professionally. He recently passed away, but his impact on my life and how I approach business will stay with me forever. He was in real estate, so I really grew up in the business. I watched. I learned. I was interested.”
On early inspirations:
“I was very lucky to have the opportunity to study in Spain, at the University of Barcelona. That experience shaped my perspective and approach to development. In the Miami Design District, for example, I knew with the right approach to revitalization I could build a vibrant, thriving community with art, commerce, and culture at its core. I wanted to take many of the ways in which Spain combined art, design, and architecture and bring that to Miami.”
On the beginnings of Art Basel Miami Beach:
“I’d been going to Art Basel and Salone del Mobile, in Milan, for years. Salone was the only place in the world that I’d ever experienced a whole city celebrating culture for a period of time. The entire city—not just the fair—turns into a venue for exhibitions, events, and activations. I became friendly with Sam Keller, and we started to talk about the possibility of Art Basel coming to Miami Beach.
As part of it, we would do Salone at the Design District. The thing that was really important to me was to take that sex appeal of Miami and combine it with this traditional event. It became this thing that was very different from Art Basel in Basel.”
On building up Miami as an arts destination:
“Intentional development of Miami neighborhoods with art and design at its core has been my life’s work. Showcasing all that Miami has to offer on the world stage is something I am passionate about. My business focus has always been to find ways to bring back central parts of my community that were no longer working. The Design District was a neglected part of town when I began acquiring properties here, but it had history and character. The area was forgotten and overlooked, and people were skeptical. I set out to transform the Miami Design District into a thriving community and a laboratory for creativity, with immersive experiences and offerings for everyone to enjoy. I feel like we’ve been successful in creating that—the District is a place where you can spend the day and be inspired.”
On taking a patient approach to business:
“Whenever you truly invent something, it takes time. You need to allow things to evolve and to nurture them along the way, and then to be able to adapt to whatever’s contemporary. It’s all a process.”