If you drive down from Fort Lauderdale to Miami, as I frequently do when staying in the area, you will come to know the I-95 well, with its views out to different districts of Miami, against the backcloth of skyscrapers around the Harbour. As you drive on the I-95 above North Miami Avenue, the buildings you see alongside are covered in street art while you, unknowingly, drive past the Miami Design District on one side and Wynwood on the other.
Both are areas in transition, regeneration and change, with the Miami Design District now host to retailers such as Gucci, Harry Winston, Tiffany and Burberry, alongside international-quality art museums including the de la Cruz Collection and the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami, facing one of the most artistic parking structures in the country, the Museum Garage.
The two areas are old inner city residential/warehouse/commercial areas of Miami, originally attracting workers from elsewhere in the US and immigrant workers from Cuba in the 1960′s and Latin America thereafter. The construction of the I-95 divided and made the area even more impoverished and unsafe along with Overtown where David Beckham now has planning permission for his new football stadium.
One of the first hints of optimism for the future was the establishment of the Rubell Family Collection in 1993 in an old US Drugs Enforcement warehouse. Today, there are over 70 galleries and art museums in Wynwood and it runs various popular arts events.
Wynwood now hosts the largest collection of street art in the US, and therefore presumably one of the largest in the world (probably after San Paolo in Brazil). Street art here is not only an art form, it is an architectural device and many of the buildings, such as the Wynwood Building - a collaborative between Jean-Francois Rauzier and Ara Peterson – have their own artist-designed façades. At the heart is Wynwood Walls, now extended with Wynwood Doors, which is a curated outdoor art gallery of street art. Somehow it does not seem right for street art to become so organised, so curated: you feel that it has lost something of its irreverent, impetuous, cheeky origins, just as street art on show in Lazinc in Mayfair in London sometime seems a contradiction. But, why not? if people who may not dream of paying to enter a ‘posh’ art museum come here and enjoy the art and the atmosphere and have a coffee and a snack surrounded by work by an international collection of artists, then all to the good. Perhaps it might encourage new artists for the future….
Wynwood is not just about visual art. The Wynwood Business Improvement District (BID) has partnered with the Miami City Ballet, following the Wynwood-Walls inspired Heatscape created by the choreographer Justin Peck with the artist Shepard Fairey and composer Bohuslav Martinů which is being performed in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
The key question hanging like a cloud as the edges are nibbled by more intensive developments, is will the street art and character survive or will it, over the years, be lost as land values increase and developers seek to build larger and taller? The challenge for Miami is how to combine the two – commercial success alongside the old artistic character.