Revitalizing with Art

Miami, Florida…. A city in which affluence and poverty are both extremely visible to the naked eye.  Sky high glass buildings, mansions, yachts, designed and manicure open spaces, as well as a plethora of high end retail and restaurants are harshly juxtaposed by parts of the city that have literally and figuratively been forgotten.

My sister and I were travelling in South Florida two weeks ago, and as luck would have it we arrived with a  tropical hurricane that lasted the entire time we were there. This meant absolutely NO tanning time, and lots of art gallery and museum time instead! As we checked out a local art gallery on Lincoln Road in Miami, we came upon an artist who we struck up a conversation with about Urban Design, Landscape Architecture, Painting, Teaching, and all things in-between. About 20 minutes into our conversation she told  us that we’d probably be interested in visiting a neighborhood not too far from Downtown Miami, that has been getting a colorful make-over called “Wynwood”. As we were saying goodbye, our artist friend said:  “Just promise me, you two wont go after dark…..”….. ummmm…ok?

Needless to say, my sister and I hopped into our rental car, typed  “Wynwood” into our GPS, and 10 minutes later, we entered a part of town which  explained why our artist friend had said: “don’t go after dark”.  A few blocks into our scenic drive my sister looked at me and said : “If Mom found out where we are, she’d kill us!”

As we drove, we noticed two walls that had spectacular murals painted on them. Two became three, three became five, five became ten, and soon after every wall we saw around us had breathtaking pieces of street art on the walls! Political and social commentary pieces were plastered all around us, and I couldn’t wait to get out of the car to take photographs of them all! Finally, we parked the car, got out and started to take in all of the amazing art that was shaping a whole new vibrant, colorful, and diverse urban fabric. Our walk led us to an Iron gateway that had “Wynwood Walls” laser cut into it. The gate opened up into a medium sized open space which was home to a cafe, two galleries, and a park space in the back.

“The Wynwood Walls was conceived by the renowned community revitalizor and placemaker Tony Goldman in 2009. He was looking for something big to transform the warehouse district of Wynwood, and he arrived at a simple idea: “Wynwood’s large stock of warehouse buildings, all with no windows, would be my giant canvases to bring to them the greatest street art ever seen in one place.” Starting with the 25th–26th Street complex of six separate buildings, his goal was to create a center where people could gravitate to and explore, and to develop the area’s pedestrian potential.

The Wynwood Walls became a major art statement with Tony’s commitment to graffiti and street art, a genre that he believes is under appreciated and not respected historically. He wanted to give the movement more attention and more respect: “By presenting it in a way that has not been done before, I was able to expose the public to something they had only seen peripherally.” Murals by renowned street artists have covered the walls of the Wynwood Walls complex since 2009, and to create more canvases and bring more artists to the project, Tony opened the Wynwood Doors in 2010 with 176 feet of roll-up storefront gates. The painted exteriors and interiors of the doors reveal a portrait gallery. Murals have also been commissioned for Outside the Walls through 2011, in key locations outside the park itself.” (source:

What was truly beautiful about the park was that it was a public open space FOR ALL to use, and that the art had not been contained to the walls and doorways that Tony had originally envisioned within the “Wynwood Walls” park space. The art had leaked out onto sidewalks, walls, doors, and just about any paintable surface in the extended neighborhood.

Our little excursion to Wynwood really made me think about the “forgotten” spaces in cities all around the world that with vision, site sensitive art /design, and fearlessness,  can be turned into beautiful democratic open spaces for all to use while keeping the original social fabric of the neighborhood. Wynwood’s dodgy-ness was embraced, celebrated, and was there to stay, but it had opened it’s “walls” to the world.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, once our Mom saw the photos of the amazing art , she didn’t want to kill us 😉