Art Basel Miami Beach festivities continue despite Zika
Posted 12:42 p.m. Thursday
Updated 1:34 p.m. Thursday
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Miami's art world does not stop for Zika-carrying mosquitoes. Poolside parties, outdoor red carpets and blocks upon blocks of art fairs are continuing as planned this week for Art Basel Miami Beach.
"The parties are happening. Everyone's here," said Ocean Drive magazine's editor in chief Jared Shapiro, who hosted a lavish party Tuesday night attended by celebs including Heidi Klum and Venus Williams.
Concern that the festival would be thwarted had flared in July when the first cases of Zika transmission through mosquito bites on the U.S. mainland were reported in Miami's arts district of Wynwood and later in nearby Miami Beach.
In a rare move, federal health officials told pregnant women to avoid the area. The disease is mild for most people but can cause severe brain-related birth defects. Panicked hotels and restaurants closed off outdoor dining areas and installed pricey bug spray systems as they fielded questions from worried guests.
But then election news overshadowed Zika, and while part of Miami Beach continues to be officially considered an active transmission zone, health officials have declared outbreaks both in Wynwood and other sections of Miami Beach to be over.
Months of hesitation have turned into a flurry of last-minute reservations.
Shapiro said there had been concern "among a lot of out of towners and New Yorkers about whether to come," but that he thought the level of concern months ago about Zika was "a bit premature."
Art Basel officially began Thursday, but parties, street fairs and concerts started earlier in the week — unaffected also by the noisy celebrations cross-town in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood over the death of long-time Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Sarah Jessica Parker was among the celebs who attended a Perrier-Jouët and Vanity Fair bash. Kendrick Lamar and Pussy Riot are performing in separate shows Thursday night. High-brow collectors, brokers and talented graffiti artists are taking to the streets to check out exhibits featuring everything from an oil painting by Chagall to pop-up musical street performances about traffic jams with a car-horn orchestra and a fleet of musical bicycles. Even Madonna is coming to town for a fundraiser.
"None of our galleries or partners have pulled out as a result of" Zika, a statement from fair officials said. "And our VIP pre-registration numbers are in line with previous years."
Airline seats booked into Miami International Airport during Art Basel weekend are up over last year. Several hotels reported they will be sold out or nearly sold out, according to the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Confidante, a new hotel on South Beach, is hosting ten events this week, ranging from a 1,000-person guest list for "DuJour" magazine to a 40-person private dinner. Most of the events are outside, said the hotel's vice president JP Oliver.
A few months ago, he said they saw a 20 percent dip in business as Zika dominated news and large groups cancelled or booked smaller blocks of rooms. Like many along the strip, the hotel put mosquito repellent in guest rooms, by the pool, bars and other outdoor areas. Staffers were bombarded with questions about Zika.
Although the champagne is flowing steadily, there is still talk of Zika privately.
A New York publicist in her late thirties said she was concerned about coming to Art Basel because she is trying to get pregnant with her second child. She stocked up on bug spray and planned to stay only 24 hours. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she didn't want her employer to know about her pregnancy plans.
But fellow New Yorker Katia Pryce said she and her team didn't even consider cancelling their trip or moving their events indoors. The 33-year-old fitness trainer and founder of DanceBody, is hosting classes all week, including three on an outdoor rooftop.
"Maybe it's a jaded New Yorker thing but it we were just kind of like 'eh'," said Pryce, shrugging off Zika. "Were' pretty bull-headed."