The Artful Life

Through her Fountainhead residency program, Kathryn Mikesell has lured hundreds of artists to Miami.

On a balmy spring morning, Kathryn Mikesell leads collectors and museum representatives on a tour of the Morningside house she shares with her husband, Dan, a former CIA agent, and their two children. From the enormous, twisted concrete and metal fence post sculpture on the front lawn, disrupting the tony neighborhood’s Leave It to Beaver tranquility, to the hyper-realistic sculpture of a Chinese motor-tricycle in the living room, art fills every corner of their home. Mikesell (left) flips a switch on a piece called Tick, by Chicago artist Cheryl Pope, which hangs in a hallway by the kitchen. This sets in motion a pendulum of stacked porcelain plates that digs and screeches against the wall, evoking the high-pitched squeak Pope makes when she’s nervous. Some visitors cover their ears at the nails-on-a-chalkboard sound. “I love this piece, though the kids don’t,” says Mikesell, who keeps it on when her children, ages 11 and 13, aren’t around. “It makes an indelible mark in the wall. It begins to own the house.”

Many pieces of Mikesell’s collection come from the 300 artists from 21 countries who have taken part in her Fountainhead residency program. (The name is both a metaphor for creative inspiration and a reference to the Ayn Rand novel she and Dan admire—a large Who is John Galt? painting hangs near the bathroom.)

“We started talking about the residency six or seven years into our collecting, simply because we wanted to get to know artists better,” says Mikesell. Talk led to action when the house across the street came up for sale, making for an ideal location. “[The artists] really become part of our family and part of our lives,” she adds. Founded in 2008, the Fountainhead has helped bolster Miami’s artistic bona fides. “People actually come just for the art scene now, and not just during Basel,” Mikesell says.

The Fountainhead hosts up to three artists at any given time. “Sometimes people come to the residency after we buy their work,” she says, “and sometimes before.” Tick creator Pope, for instance, is arriving in December. Certain artists take part for the chance to create in a new environment. Others come because they’ve received commissions from local institutions, such as the Pérez Art Museum Miami and Locust Projects, which have partnered with the Mikesells. In August PAMM exhibited a piece that Salvadoran artist Simón Vega did while at Fountainhead.

In addition to the residency, Mikesell runs Foun­tainhead Studios, a complex in Lit­tle Haiti that offers rent-subsidized work spaces for 41 Miami-based artists, including Juan Raul Hoyos and Marisa Telleria. “Runs” is the operative word; Mikesell, a technology consultant who swims in the bay every morning, spends most days darting between studios, galleries, museums and galas, checking in on her many protégés with godmotherly attention.

Mikesell has recently launched a service called “Your Fountainhead,” which guides outsiders and would-be collectors through the trenches of Miami art she knows so well, making all the right introductions and generally simulating the experience of being Kathryn Mikesell. “Art is hot right now, so people want to be involved in it,” she says, “but it’s truly an incredible lifestyle when you incorporate art in your life…that depth feeds your mind and your soul.”

Mikesell will be hosting viewings of her home collection December 5. Fountainhead Studios will be open to the public October 18; 7339 NW Miami Ct.; fountainheadresidency.com.