Five Questions for Stella Holmes

Christian Slater and Stella Holmes at MOCA Mystery Dates

Stella Holmes is one of this city’s great influencers. A woman with tremendous vision who is unafraid to take risk, Ms. Holmes spearheads ambitious projects that bring cultures together.

In recent years, she has dedicated herself to documentary filmmaking and has seen tremendous success. Her first production, West Encounters East (WEE), has been recognized with two important industry accolades.

The documentary was named a Silver winner in the 35th Annual Telly Awards, and Ms. Holmes received the 2014 Brazilian International Press Award in the Cinema and Film category.

In anticipation of WPBT2’s encore presentation at 10 pm on Friday, May 9, SocialMiami sat down with Ms. Holmes to learn what makes her creativity tick and why Miami is the city she calls home.

Ms. Holmes, you’re not originally from Miami. Please tell us about your background and why you chose to plant roots in Miami.

Although I was born and raised in Argentina, which was my father’s country, my mother is from Paraguay, so I grew up in a bicultural family. Later, I studied in Paris, and eventually earned a degree in art history at the University of Miami. I have traveled a lot, but to me, Miami is a very exciting place to call home. It’s a place where people from many different parts of the world can meet and get to know each other’s cultures and traditions. The explosion of arts and culture here in the past decade or so has benefited fantastically from that multiculturalism. I have always believed that art is a bridge of understanding between very different cultures. Here in Miami, we can actually see that happening.

Several years ago, you made the decision to expand from real estate into filmmaking with the award-winning documentary West Encounters East. How did this evolution come about, and how have you grown from the experience?

“Evolution” is a very good way to describe it. I have never seen a conflict between art and business. In fact, I have found that success in business requires a creative approach. I have always been involved in the arts in one way or another.

When I encountered a group of Japanese-Brazilian artists, descendants of a century-old diaspora that has given São Paulo the largest ethnically Japanese population outside Japan, I was enchanted. Their works addressed universal themes of immigration and assimilation, merging artistic tradition of East and West to create a dynamic new aesthetic. Perhaps because of my own bicultural background, these works captured my soul. I wanted to do something that would honor these artists and also introduce them to a wider audience. Film seemed to me to be the best medium for this project. Like many other art forms, it is visual and has a universal appeal. To my delight, I discovered I love everything about documentary filmmaking, from research to interviews to editing. It has become my passion.

I am currently working on a documentary about the Lowe Art Museum’s history, operations and collections. Two more documentaries are in production. I am collaborating with the Consulate General of Argentina in Miami on Taste of Argentina, which will showcase the large expatriate Argentine community in Miami, and also developing a second film on a subject related to West Encounters East.

You are a trustee, or benefactor, to several significant South Florida museums, including Vizcaya, the Lowe Art Museum at University of Miami, and the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. Why do you feel that supporting museums is important?

Art is something I feel very strongly is necessary in life – not only to me as an individual, but also to the development of a well-balanced community.

Since I was a child, art has been essential to me. It’s a kind of communication that goes deeper than language. I think it’s very interesting that we find art in every ancient culture. It is much older than written language. It touches the heart in a way that goes deeper than superficial differences of personality and culture. To me, it is the language of the soul.

I believe that if we do not preserve our cultural heritage, we as a community will lose something we cannot get back. So we have to support these institutions that do that for us. Museums are also necessary to educate and inspire, which is why I feel outreach needs to be a very important part of every museum’s agenda. Art is for everyone.

You were recently honored by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami-Dade at their Miracle Makers luncheon. Why is the opportunity to help children important to you?

Children are our future. We need to respond to the needs of all of the children in our community, not just our own offspring. We all face obstacles, but for children in challenging circumstances, a helping hand at a crucial moment can be life-transforming.

The resilience of these children never fails to touch my heart. Whatever obstacles they face, they always have a smile on their faces. I’m proud to be a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters, which makes miracles possible for so many children.

How can Miami continue to mature to become one of the world’s great cities?

Miami has so much going for it already — great beaches, wonderful weather, a location that makes it a natural cultural crossroads. The world already knows it’s a great place to visit. Those of us who call it home have a duty to make sure that it’s also a great place to live. We can all help by asking ourselves what we can do to make Miami better, now and in the future.

Community service can take a lot of forms – not only giving financial support, but also investing our time and our talents. For me personally, using my passion for the arts in service of the community is extremely rewarding.

Community service takes commitment – the courage to act on what we feel. Sometimes it requires sacrifice. It may not be easy, but there are few feelings more rewarding than to know you’ve had a part in making your corner of the world a better place for everyone. And magically, wherever we may have come from originally, community service creates a sense of belonging to the city where we are now. It makes us proud to be Miamians.

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