These are great times to be 21 in Miami. A great location for food, music and art, Miami will feed an assortment of interests. On a typical Friday night you can catch me at Wood Tavern in the hip neighborhood of Wynwood sipping on cocktails right before I grow hungry and head to Gramps where Ms. Cheezious’ food truck is undoubtedly parked waiting for my friends and I. We devour our grilled cheese sandwiches as we ponder where else we would be if Wynwood didn’t exist. Brickell? Sobe? The Grove? This striking neighborhood has not only given my group of friends a destination where we can avoid tourists and sky-high priced drinks, it’s also molded Miami into a more accepting place for street art.
I can recall visiting New York in 2008 and feasting my eyes upon a massive mural in SoHo, located in lower Manhattan. The three-story high piece was of rat wearing the classic “I (heart) NY” shirt holding a pencil. The rat, made by street-artist Banksy, was ironically drawing another rat with the pencil. I thought to myself “You’d NEVER see this in Miami”. Lo and behold - here I am five years later in the streets of Wynwood where I can sit and enjoy watching my friend, Blues (that’s his tag name), create his mural for Art Basel. Jon, a former student from the Art Institute of Miami, moved to New York for more opportunities in his field because his kind of work wasn’t considered “art” in Miami. It was vandalism. For this reason, many artists (like Blues) refuse to reveal their true identity.
Wynwood features street artists from all over the world such as Invader, FUTURA, Shepard Fairey and Nunca. Invader, who has pieces in London, L.A. and even Tokyo, visited Miami for the first time in 2009 to add his art to the Wynwood Walls. He was completely in awe at the area, "I mean that you can drive there and do a street art safari! I never saw such concentration of street art before."
Although Miami has become more accepting towards street art through the up-and-coming neighborhood of Wynwood, other areas in Miami consider it a form of mischief. For example - Israel Hernández-Llach (aka Reefa), the 18 year old street artist who was tasered to death by Miami Beach Police after being chased down for tagging a deserted McDonalds. Israel was known locally for his sculptures, paintings and spray-paint works. Would this tragedy have happened if he was placing his art in Wynwood as opposed to South Beach? Is Wynwood the only safe haven for street artists? If there is a difference between street art and graffiti - where is the line drawn?
Through some field research during Art Basel, I discovered that street artists acquire work spaces (or walls) through a variety of ways. World renowned artists have been invited to Miami with complimentary accommodations just to add their work to the Wynwood Walls. Other street artists, whether locals or not, may be contacted by business or building owners or vise-versa in order to create murals on their building walls. This provides an opportunity for the artist to showcase their work and the business to add aesthetic appeal to their building and overall, the neighborhood. Blues, who was working on a mural for Art Basel used neither of these methods. Without consent, he and other artists from around the United States began their masterpieces at the rooftop of a building in the Art District. The building manager grew aware of the situation and posed a threat to call the police. Blues explained their situation; they were a group of artists from New York who wanted to showcase their work during Art Basel. They would repaint the wall after the weekend was over. After some convincing, the building manager called the owner and put him on the phone with Blues. Emilio Estefan, the owner of the building, personally told Blues he was allowed to beautify his building and even gave him the keys for easier access!
This occurrence is a testament to the growing acceptance of street art in Miami. Hopefully, through events that celebrate art such at Art Basel and Art Walk (second Saturday of every month in Wynwood), Miami’s view of street art will continue to mold into approval.
By Miami Blogger, Samantha Castellanos