Graffiti art is changing the face of Miami's Wynwood neighborhood

12/20/12 Lenka Davis and Christopher Davis
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The sound of a graffiti artist’s can of spray paint may mean different things to different people. For people in the Wynwood and Overtown districts of Miami, it is the sound of the inner and outer transformation of their neighborhood.

Rob Fogel is a graffiti artist painting a mural on the border between the two districts. It is the middle of the night, but police spotlights are lighting up the wall, so Fogle carries on painting. But, the police are not here to help him finish his mural on time. In fact, they are here responding to a drive-by shooting.

In the past, Fogle might have been amongst those arrested for vandalism. Now the graffiti artist and police have found common ground.

And they are not the only ones. Before and after our interview, people from the neighborhood stop by, watch Fogle paint, shake his hand and thank him for changing the view they see out of the window.

Community activist, Dario Gonzalez guided us and hundreds of other bicyclists through Wynwood during the major art festival known as Art Basel. Gonzalez showed off the most noteworthy mural paintings in the district. He thinks the paradigm shift happened because of people’s appreciation of graffiti art.

So, what was Wynwood was like before all this art moved in?

Christopher Maslow is an artist and curator of street murals for Primary Flight, an organization that first envisioned the Wynwood district as a potential open air museum. Maslow vividly remembers the changes that happened in the area.

The bicycle activist, Gonzalez, thinks that desolate places, like Wynwood a decade ago, can be breeding grounds for artistic imagination.

But the revitalization of the Wynwood district is not exclusively positive. Maslow, the artist, warns that after immense changes in the appearance and infrastructure of the neighborhood, many of the artists who ignited those changes cannot afford to stay in the area.

With the district revitalized, some of the artists are moving on. Right next door to Wynwood is the Overtown district, long considered an eyesore of Miami. The price of real estate is among the lowest in the city and some artists think it could become the next Wynwood. Our trip to Miami began with the desire to report on one of the world’s greatest art shows, Art Basel. However, it was outside the expo hall where we found the most interesting art story. Human imagination and a can of spray paint can turn a dark, uninviting space into a bustling arts district. Artist Christopher Maslow offers a universal recipe for change.

As we drive back to Tampa, we keep on thinking: is there an area that would provide such a playground for creativity? The Nebraska Avenue neighborhoods? The dying strip malls? Somewhere in the vast suburbia surrounding the city? What about the edges of Ybor and a missed opportunity found again?

More photos of Wynwood by Christopher Davis.

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