words_ashley brozic. photos_rachel steinhauser.
design_ claudia aguirre & melanie kleiner.
Stroll down Northwest Avenue and you’ll start to notice that you’re not in Canes country anymore. On the walls of this seemingly rundown neighborhood you’ll find blocks of bold colored, stenciled and intricately spray painted street art.
Wynwood is one of Miami’s greatest hidden treasures. It offers pedestrians a chance to break away from the flat walls of conventionality and enter a whirlwind of color and creative genius.
One mural in particular can be found on the corner of Northwest 25th Street and Second Avenue. Here, inside the Wynwood Walls, is a striking red, black and beige collage of Burmese women, Islamic references and propaganda-style posters: a visual commentary on human rights and non-violent protests. The word “OBEY” is emphasized throughout the facade, but the street art has one aim: to defy.
Street art is the visual expression of an anti-establishment sentiment. It gives people insight because it reflects ideas and realities without censorship.
“It brought us some New York City. Wynwood has its own subculture. It brings together everything unique and, dare I say, hipster about Miami,” sophomore Julian Malegon said.
Thanks to events like Art Basel and Second Saturday Art Walk, Wynwood has emerged from the shadows. Artistic real estate developers Tony Goldman and Jeffrey Deitch have taken notice. In 2009 they developed what is now the focal point of the district: the Wynwood Walls. It is a collection of 20 murals and other installations created by Kenny Scharf, Nunca, Stelios Faitakis and other artists. Goldman’s next venture is The Lightbox at Goldman Warehouse, a cutting-edge performing arts theater that is set to open this April.
Wynwood houses one of the largest organized outdoor museums thanks to the art collective Primary Flight, who turned this nearly abandoned garment district into an oasis for the urban avant-garde.
Since 2007, over 150 renowned artists have left their mark on the neighborhood’s streets. Prestigious names include Ron English, Tristan Eaton and Shepard Fairey, the mastermind behind the “OBEY” wall. Remember Obama’s iconic Hope posters during the 2008 elections? Fairey can be credited for that design.
While some of Wynwood’s contributors are unknown to the general public, others, like Fairey, are well-respected and influential artists in the contemporary art scene as well as the commercial arena. But how do they get noticed when they dwell in a world where profit and popularity are the ultimate taboos? Before their pieces can make it into prestigious galleries and poster-filled walls of your bedroom, they must first gain respect in dark alleyways and abandoned sidewalks. “Rebels will go out there and put up a tag name without the consent of owners. Anything with charges over $1000 could be considered a felony,” said City of Miami Gang Detective Michael Cadavid. Fortunately, most of the murals of Wynwood are commissioned.
Although there is a thin line between the two, street art should not be confused with graffiti.
“Graffiti’s main goal is ‘getting up.’ Street art isn’t concerned with branding a name. It’s more about branding a concept,” said JLLBird, a street artist behind the “Fake is Good” project.
Graffiti is about tagging, the act of getting your signature out there as many times as possible. Street art, on the other hand, is about the message. It utilizes techniques like stenciling, yarn bombing, spray painting, sticker slapping and wheat pasting, where artists print out graphics and paste them onto walls using a mix of starch and water.
Wynwood is becoming one of Miami’s hippest neighborhoods, but what does this beautification do to the over 6,221 households who have a median household income of $11,293? Could local artists face the same fate as the bohemians of Greenwich Village in the 1960s, who were forced out of their studios because of skyrocketing rent prices?
“Over time, as property values increase, residents may be displaced. It’s a byproduct of improving a community. It’s different from SoHo though, because the artists lived where they worked. The galleries in Wynwood won’t disappear because they are essential. They’re what draw in the people,” said Joe Furst of Goldman Properties.
Whatever the future effects of this artistic emergence may be, they are not felt now. “I like the artwork. I think it looks nice,” said Shaquanza Black, an employee at Salsarita’s in the Hurricane Food Court, who lives close to Wynwood.
With the new developments sprouting around the district, Wynwood could one day be up to par with cities like Sao Palo and Los Angeles, where artists flock to claim their space on concrete canvases.
“It will soon be the culture hub of Florida and the southern United States,” Furst said.
That seems like a heavy title to put on a neighborhood that has just recently sprouted on the radar. But at the rate Wynwood’s popularity is growing, this underground art scene will not be buried for much longer.