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An Unexpected Writer’s Retreat

How one South Beach hotel fosters a vibrant arts and literature community

With an Ocean Drive address, The Betsy South Beach sits right in the midst of Miami’s most notorious nightlife spots and tourist traps. Like at any other high-caliber hotel in the area, guests of the property want for nothing— there’s an outdoor spa (the only one in the city), a kitchen manned by award-winning Chef Laurent Tourondel, a full-service concierge and seriously classy decor.

This week, as the spectacle that is Art Basel Miami Beach unfolds in the Magic City, The Betsy is no exception to the slew of luxury hotels hosting events, artists in residence or exhibitions in honor of the event. Besides displaying works by the late painter Fay Lansner, the up-and-coming Spanish artist Ricardo Cavolo and legendary photographer Robert Zuckerman, The Betsy will host two official Art Basel fêtes. Eric Ginsburg’s show “Curated Mini Fridge,” will be on display in the Underground Gallery and features works by numerous artists, including William Wegman, that are all smaller than a dorm room-sized refrigerator. And The Betsy’s official salon series in partnership with Untitled, one of Basel Miami’s growing satellite fairs, will also take place over three days at the hotel.

The Betsy Hotel, South Beach Facade, Ocean Drive Arrival

Salons, or intimate meetings of creative minds to discuss specific topics or works of art, may not immediately come to mind for outsiders looking in at Art Basel or Miami in general. However, these gatherings are not only central to The Betsy’s Basel programming (it will host four in addition to the Untitled series this week), but to the hotel’s entire ethos. “We’ve done over a hundred of them since we opened. A salon is just a chance for the community to break bread with the artist,” says Deborah Plutzik Briggs, Vice President of Betsy’s PACE (philanthropy, arts, culture and education) program.

In addition to hosting salons, adorning the hotel’s walls with work from both well known and underrepresented artists and spearheading a number of other cultural initiatives, the PACE program is responsible for filling one particularly special room at the hotel on a regular basis. “We decided to take one of our rooms out of service and dedicate it to our writer residency program,” explains owner Jonathan Plutzik. “And we’ve had, thus far, 450 writers in residence, approximately, and what excites us is the range of writers.”

Plutzik and Briggs are siblings who renovated and reopened The Betsy in 2009 and created the Writer’s Room as a touching tribute to their late father, Pulitzer-nominated poet Hyam Plutzik. “One of the last things we did after we built the writer’s room was to bring his desk to that room. Sort of this idea that other writers and poets will sit at that desk and sort of be inspired by this legacy of writing. And we give them dad’s book and it’s this idea of linking past and present and looking towards the future,” says Briggs. Although they aren’t Miami natives, they credit the city’s diversity as the key that allows a community of artists and writers to thrive here. “Jonathan and I can both wax poetic on this for a long time. We have new, deeply rooted, strong admiration for the arts community in general in Miami. The literary community is astounding.”

The Betsy Hotel, South Beach Rooftop Wellness Garden and Spa

Guests of The Writer’s Room are chosen through an application process, and alumni range from former Poet Laureate of the United States Billy Collins to never-before-published writers. “We’ve had writers of great celebrity or prominence, but that’s not our principal goal, nor our only goal. We simply celebrate writers,” says Plutzik. “We celebrate both the writers in Miami, and we celebrate the exposure of Miami to these writers who arrive from all over the world who might think of Miami and Miami Beach one way and leave with a very different feeling. We’ve received some beautiful prose from some of them where they talk about that discovery. “

In the coming weeks, The Betsy will expand with a new Art Deco wing including a rooftop pool, a library and a mirrored orb connecting the new space and old. Fittingly, the first component of the new construction to be completed is a public art installation called I Poetti, a metal structure adorned with the words of 13 poets—including Hyam Plutzik.