At C&I Stu­dios, Joshua Miller never tires of reach­ing out

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Local - By Ben Cran­dell

Since mov­ing to South Florida from Wash­ing­ton, D.C., in 2008, Joshua Miller has been a re­lent­less nur­turer of com­mu­nity. Now the CEO of C&I Stu­dios — the youth­fully spir­ited mar­ket­ing firm that helped es­tab­lish down­town Fort Laud­erdale’s FAT Vil­lage as a cre­ative and com­mer­cial des­ti­na­tion — has for­mal­ized its char­i­ta­ble ef­forts into a non­profit called C&I Reach.

The ti­tle is an apt rep­re­sen­ta­tion of C&I Stu­dios’ long-run­ning ef­fort to con­nect com­mu­ni­ties, both lo­cal and global, and his firm’s use of cut­ting-edge, vis­ual forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion to pro­pel its mes­sage. But it also fits the lofty am­bi­tions of a man un­de­terred by the recog­ni­tion that, per­haps, his reach al­ways may ex­ceed his grasp.

“How do you ac­tu­ally change the world? That’s what we sit around the ta­ble and talk about,” Miller says.

On Satur­day,C&I Stu­dios will host its first pub­lic fundraiser for C&I Reach called “Be­yond,” planned as an an­nual event ded­i­cated C&I Stu­dios part­ners Justin Mein, Miller and Ian Daw­son will in­tro­duce their non­profit, C&I Reach, on Satur­day at a fundraiser and ex­hibit called “Be­yond.”

to its work with aid or­ga­ni­za­tions from Gu­atemala to Zam­bia. The com­pany, based in Fort Laud­erdale, with of­fices in Los An­ge­les and North Carolina, has worked on cam­paigns for Co­caCola, Nike and the John F. Kennedy Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts.

Not your typ­i­cal char­ity event, a high­light of “Be­yond” will be video — shot with high-def­i­ni­tion 8K 360-de­gree cam­eras — de­pict­ing ev­ery­day life in homes and

schools in small vil­lages. Wear­ing vir­tual-re­al­ity Ocu­lus Go head­sets, fundraiser guests will be im­mersed in the day-to-day ex­is­tence of res­i­dents.

Along with Miller, the team be­hind C&I Reach and “Be­yond” in­cludes C&I Stu­dios’ Justin Mein, Ian Daw­son and Beth Bryant.

The goal for the trips to un­der­priv­i­leged coun­tries was to use

their par­tic­u­lar flu­ency in vis­ual sto­ry­telling — the lin­gua franca of the modern gen­er­a­tion — to il­lu­mi­nate un­told sto­ries that might change hearts and minds in Amer­ica.

What may be sur­pris­ing about the fundraiser VR ex­pe­ri­ence, Miller warns, is not the de­spair found in these vil­lages, but the joy.

“These kids are fly­ing a kite made out of a plas­tic bag, and they’re hav­ing the time of their life. These coun­tries are beau­ti­ful. These peo­ple are beau­ti­ful,” Miller says. “This [fundraiser] is us gather­ing a group of peo­ple and say­ing, ‘Hey, let’s be bet­ter ver­sions of our­selves. Take a look around through this Ocu­lus Go and let’s help some of these com­mu­ni­ties.’”

‘We took a chance’

If FAT Vil­lage seems like the per­fect petri dish for young South Florida cre­atives to ex­per­i­ment, it was not al­ways so. And Miller is con­cerned that its days as an art com­mu­nity may be num­bered as rents rise and de­vel­op­ment looms.

When Miller moved C&I Stu­dios from a space on Com­mer­cial Boule­vard to FAT Vil­lage about eight years ago, there wasn’t much else around. The land­lord vir­tu­ally begged him to lease the build­ing that backed onto the FEC rail­road tracks at 541 NW First Ave., the street that forms the spine of FAT Vil­lage.

“We took a chance, right? Our cars were get­ting bro­ken into. And all of our clients were, like, ‘I’m not driv­ing down that road,’” Miller says.

In­stead of lock­ing his doors, Miller opened them. Soon af­ter C&I Stu­dios ar­rived in FAT Vil­lage, he be­gan rolling up the big de­liv­ery-bay doors at the ware­house for free neigh­bor­hood bar­be­cues.

Then came live mu­sic and movie nights, the For the Love Mu­sic Fes­ti­val and ware­house pro­gram­ming — lo­cal bands, fash­ion shows and silent-disco par­ties — for the blos­som­ing FAT Vil­lage Art Walk.

A few years ago C&I Stu­dios carved out space for a cof­fee shop and then a bar, Next Door @ C&I, an in­stantly pop­u­lar hang­out for the young and cre­atively rest­less.

To­day, Miller watches Maser­atis roll by; Art Walk draws thou­sands of vis­i­tors; two 100-foot con­struc­tion cranes loom over a large res­i­den­tial project a block away; Henry’s Sand­wich Sta­tion next door serves truf­fled grilled cheese; and the 40,000-square-foot Sistrunk Mar­ket & Brew­ery is go­ing in across the tracks.

‘Dope ware­houses’

When cel­list Yo-Yo Ma sat down last April and had his hair cut at Noble­man’s Cut & Shave just up the block, Miller’s ex­cite­ment came with frus­tra­tion.

The visit by the renowned cel­list was part of a mul­ti­c­ity tour called Arts Across Amer­ica that in­tro­duced Ma to places where cre­ativ­ity is be­ing cul­ti­vated around Fort Laud­erdale, in­clud­ing FAT Vil­lage, ArtServe, Walker Ele­men­tary School and Dil­lard High School.

The funky oth­er­ness that en­cour­aged Ma to pause in FAT Vil­lage, chock­ablock with ware­houses, gal­leries and art-mak­ing spa­ces, is a dis­tinc­tive side of Fort Laud­erdale that is un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated by lo­cal lead­ers who ac­com­pa­nied Ma, Miller says.

“You’ve got a celebrity com­ing here and what are you go­ing to show him? You don’t want to show him Las Olas and the Icon build­ing. You want to show him the dope ware­houses, with the artists that are do­ing re­ally unique things,” Miller says. “It’s ex­cit­ing. But I also feel chal­lenged … watch­ing our friends try­ing to fig­ure out where they’re go­ing to move their busi­nesses.”

Miller says the rent at C&I Stu­dios has been ris­ing, but the in­crease is off­set by prof­its from Next Door @ C&I and the cof­fee shop. He wor­ries about neigh­bors without such ex­tra rev­enue streams.

“We’re su­per pro de­vel­op­ment, but you have to be care­ful,” Miller says.

‘It’s the for­mula’

At the nearby IS Projects print­mak­ing stu­dio, owner In­grid Schin­dall, a Del­ray Beach na­tive, has been cre­at­ing fine-art prints and host­ing weekly work­shops since 2014.

If Art Walk has be­come more drink­ing party than cre­ative ex­change, Schin­dall says FAT Vil­lage events such as the Small Press Fair — a col­lec­tion of ven­dors and work­shops re­turn­ing on Nov. 10 — have helped en­cour­age se­ri­ous in­ter­est in her work.

“FAT Vil­lage has been a re­ally good place for us. Busi­ness has been great. There’s a good com­mu­nity here,” Schin­dall says.

She de­scribes her land­lord, FAT Vil­lage de­vel­oper Doug McCraw, as an as­set. “Of course, ev­ery­one wants lower rents, but ... Doug and [part­ner] Lutz [Hof­bauer] are re­ally try­ing to do good by their artists,” she says.

Schin­dall isn’t sure how much longer she will be in her cur­rent space, but sees a move as an in­evitable part of a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion. Art com­mu­ni­ties tend to mir­ror ur­ban de­vel­op­ment rather than in­spire it, she says.

“It’s the for­mula. The city had a plan to bring 100,000 peo­ple down­town. This is the place that had the most blank spa­ces to work with,” Schin­dall says. “There was the re­ces­sion. There was a bunch of va­cant spa­ces. So ‘Let’s just toss artists in there, be­cause they don’t need us to fix it up.’ Places sit dor­mant with artists in them un­til that land is valu­able.”

Around the cor­ner at Noble­man’s Cut & Shave, coowner Kevin Grande took time from an­other busy af­ter­noon to speak about the bar­ber­shop, called Mon­archs when he helped open it in 2016.

The Fort Laud­erdale na­tive spent six years work­ing nearby at Joe’s Bar­ber Shop on Fed­eral High­way. The de­ci­sion to lo­cate his own shop on a back street in FAT Vil­lage prompted some sleep­less nights, he says.

“It wasn’t an easy de­ci­sion, busi­ness-wise, but I’m grate­ful that I did it,” says Grande, whose staff spe­cial­izes in the styles you might see on David Beck­ham and Paul Pogba. “Why not the art district? What we do is art.”

Cit­ing the open­ing of Henry’s, a sushi spot com­ing in a cou­ple doors down, the Sistrunk brew­ery, new high­rise projects and the re­cent open­ing of the nearby Bright­line sta­tion, Grande is happy he took the risk in FAT Vil­lage.

“Things keep grow­ing and grow­ing. It’s this big now, and imag­ine two years from now.”

C&I Stu­dios, 541 NW First Ave. in Fort Laud­erdale, will host “Be­yond,” a pho­tog­ra­phy and vir­tual-re­al­ity show­case and fundraiser, 7-11 p.m. Satur­day, Oct. 13. Tick­ets cost $75, in­clud­ing food and open bar. Visit

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