Ten years. It’s almost inconceivable how quickly Wynwood as a neighborhood has evolved. The booming population, thanks to Baby Boomers, coupled with the lightning-fast speed insta-information about hot and hip new hoods zooms around the planet, as well as the jones for street art all came together in a monster way in Wynwood. A long time hood for warehouses and industrial shops, the real estate was up for grabs – but needed a plan.
Tony Goldman, the developer with a fondness for revitalizing historic neighborhoods – Soho in NYC, and South Beach – saw a new kind of revitalization here in 2007. There was no glamorous heyday to be restored – but the huge expanses of blank windowless walls were a perfect canvas for large scale art. He envisioned multiple murals by well known and also up and coming artists and a café to feed the viewers and maybe a gift shop and gallery with smaller works and books down the line.
Goldman, who passed away in 2012, used to say “Artists are the shock troops of gentrification”, the first line of offense into a rough and tumble place. Only this time a deep-pocketed developer would be their general. He scooped up a block of warehouses with 70,000 square feet of wall space – to be “the spine” of the neighborhood and designed them to surround a courtyard, enclosed and secure.
The murals went up fast with big names – Kenny Scharf and Shepard Fairey being the mainstays. A large restaurant with sizable outdoor space, indoor bar, and quieter booth seating, soon went in. Fairey plastered the walls with his signature orange and black and marigold colors, adding tributes to famous people – Jean Michel Basquiat, Dalai Lama, and Goldman too.
It quickly became a hot spot, with hordes of art lovers and tourists flocking to see the art. Soon everything around it blossomed too – Panther Coffee, pizza places, Wynwood Diner, galleries, trendy clothing shops. Soon a million people a year were traipsing – and Instagramming – Wynwood Walls, last year the number was close to 3 million. The hood accounted for 20% of the street parking revenue for the whole city, and over half a billion dollars was spent overall in the district.
Then came even more big money, figuring that if that many people were hanging out here, maybe they would want to live here too. Entire blocks were scooped up, razed, and marked for “multi-use residential” the big catchphrase. Bye, small galleries. Condos with gyms, pools, shops, and of course new parking garages to accommodate the autos.
Now a decade later, Jessica Goldman Srebnick, Tony’s daughter and CEO of Goldman Properties, is one of the largest landowners in Wynwood and continues her father’s mission. There are now three indoor galleries, two of them operated by Goldman Global Arts, the curating division of Goldman Properties: one is a 3,400 square-footer that opened during December 2016 and a 1,500 square-foot space that opened in 2018.
For the 10th anniversary, the Walls has curated a new show that features new works by artists Martha Cooper, Kenny Scharf, Kelsey Montague, and Michael Vasquez. There is also a coffee table book, “Walls of Change: The Story of the Wynwood Walls,” by Assouline Publishing, documenting the first decade of the gallery with photos taken by Martha Cooper and essays from Shepard Fairey, Maya Hayuk and Ron English.
The gallery show opened to large crowds during Miami Art Week, with new murals in the courtyards and many smaller sized works in the gallery, including some sculptures of sharks and faces cut from concrete.
Fairey, one of their longest, most loyal artists, has been at Wynwood during Art Week almost every year, either painting a new mural, unveiling a new line of prints, designing waiter uniforms, or accepting an award. This year he was there dj’ing a late-night party, and finishing up two new murals in the Design District – one at Hublot Watches in Paradise Plaza, and one at Eneida M. Hartner Elementary School that schoolkids helped paint. The California resident loves coming to Miami and giving back to a city that has given him much.
Another longtime resident artist is Peter Tunney, who paints stories and murals inside letters. He has a permanent gallery/studio inside Wynwood Walls and often curates shows at the galleries.
This year Kenny Scharf updated the outdoor café wall in time for Art Week with one of his signature gonzo creature murals, zooming along in bright shades of yellow, red, blue and green with wicked grins.
The Wynwood Walls Store has moved from its cramped digs near the entrance to a much larger 2,700 square foot space with a side entrance on 25th Street that used to house a juice store. They now carry lots of lesser priced items – keychains, magnets, t-shirts, stickers, as well as the new book and some higher-end prints.
With all the free art to see, Wynwood Walls is still a privately owned property, with no government or grant funding or charge for people to see the artwork. Costs have grown with the neighborhoods appeal – real estate taxes, mortgage payments, maintenance, security, insurance and staff, things not shared by the neighborhood.
Looking back at the big picture of ten years of art, growth, radical transformation and Miami’s ever-changing scene, it’s quite a feat. The growing pains include many established galleries fleeing the higher rents and increased parties that clog streets and drive away more serious business. Those people are moving either downtown or further west to Allapattah – Seminole word for Alligator- another gritty warehouse hood already the site of two museums from the Rubells and Jorge Perez, where a new livable art hood is sure to follow.
10 Years After, Wynwood Murals Fast Track a Neighborhood