Distinctive Wynwood offers visitors public art in great scale and depth

Posted October 30, 2015


MIAMI — Growing up in Chicago, I would often hear of kids getting in trouble for spray-painting graffiti on public or private property that they did not have permission to use.

My next-door-neighbor, Tom Conti, was a self proclaimed “skater” and aspiring graffiti artist. He even had his own lingo. He used the word “tag” to mean signing his work with his name. If he painted a “throw up,” it was a quick piece. A “bomb” meant an illegal work that is “thrown up” fast, most often at night.

He would proudly tell me about how he and his “crew” would go out on nightly adventures to spray paint the neighborhood and he boasted that they had improved the neighborhood with their colorful works of art. He said how beautiful it was “to see art on the side of a building, on such a large scale.”

Having started at the University of Miami two years ago, I had forgotten all about Tom Conti and his spray-painting gang. But I decided to drive to Miami’s Wynwood district because I was looking for a distinctive local neighborhood to photograph for a photography class I was taking.

This all reminded me of Tom. I was expecting a graffiti-sprayed warehouse district, but what I saw was restored park and surrounding neighborhood with full buildings covered in huge, beautiful, commissioned murals.

I was blown away.

The depth, scale and amount of public art were like nothing I had seen before. One could walk around for hours and not see it all. After taking photos of the murals in the Wynwood walls art park, I decided to get a bite at the Wynwood Kitchen and Tap, a restaurant right next to the walls art park.

Stacey, my waitress, told me that she has lived in the area for more than 10 years and that the transformation of the neighborhood was been “mind-blowing.” She told me that as recently as 2005 the neighborhood of Wynwood was just another blighted, desolate, and dangerous warehouse district.

The neighborhood’s complete transformation was mostly due to the vision of one real estate investor and community revitalizer, the late Tony Goldman. Goldman was looking for something big to transform the decrepit warehouse district of Wynwood. He came up with the idea that “Wynwood’s large stock of warehouse buildings, (all with no windows) would make a perfect giant canvases”; and he would bring world renowned artists to create “the best street art that anyone had ever seen.”

He started with the NW 25th–26th Street complex of six separate buildings, and he soon succeeded in creating one of the largest outdoor art museums in the world. In 2004, Goldman bought his first building in Wynwood and, by 2008, he owned nearly two dozen properties in the neighborhood. The famous Wynwood Walls was different the other graffiti painted wall because it was in a spotlighted and security guard protected refurbished park. It was Goldman-sponsored and the artists were commissioned.

Wynwood Kitchen & Bar was then opened by Jessica Goldman Srebnick, Tony Goldman’s daughter. The restaurant itself is a work of art. The bar is decorated by a colorful collage mural by Shepard Fairey, and the dining room has abstract 20-foot paintings by German artist Christian Awe and an 11-foot multi-colored, sculptural man by David Benjamin Sherry. An outdoor patio area is decorated with a series of images by Faile and Bast

Now Wynwood is a trendy arts hub, filled with colorful outdoor art murals. The neighborhood is home to more than 70 art galleries, museums and collections. It is “Miami cool.”

My next stop was a hip-looking gallery next door. Gary Lewis, a salesman for the gallery, told me that they carried both well known, and emerging artists, but they and made a point of trying the best they could to support local artists. He also told me that, unfortunately, most of the murals are done by international artists who were invited to paint “the walls, not local… very few of us locals get the good walls and the good shows.”

“Chances are that, if you’re in Wynwood, you’re not looking at a local’s work,” said Gary. But said that he loved living and working in Wynwood.

“Wynwood makes art so accessible to the average person, the average person doesn’t necessarily go to museums and aren’t art collectors or art-educated. If you can take the same exact image from a street and put it in the museum, it doesn’t speak as loudly as it would if it were illegally on the street corner or in a gritty part of the neighborhood,” he explained.

Deciding to walk around the neighborhood before heading home, I began to see that the Wynwood Walls have spread to include murals into many of the surrounding neighborhoods. Termed “Outside the Walls,” these beautiful murals cover entire sides of buildings, creating incredible surprises down each block of the neighborhood.

As I was leaving Wynwood, I couldn’t help but remember my old neighbor Tom and the beauty he saw in the colors and paint he sprayed along the train track and building of our town; he hoped others would see his art as a beautiful enhancement to a neighborhood. This same could definitely be said for the street art of Wynwood. It inspires emotion, thought, and creativity. In the case of Wynwood, street art brought life to lifeless buildings and it infused color and vitality to otherwise forgotten neighborhoods.

If You Go:

  • Location: 2516 NW 2nd Ave., Miami, Fla. 33127.
  • Phone: 305-531-4411
  • Hours: Mondays – Thursdays from 11 a.m. – 11:30 p.m., Fridays – Saturdays from 11 a.m. – midnight, Sundays from 11 a.m. – 8 p.m., Second Saturdays of the month (Wynwood Artwalk) from 11 a.m. – midnight.
  • On rare occasions, entrance to the Wynwood Walls & Wynwood Doors exhibits may be closed. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at 305-531-4411 in order to confirm access during your visit.
  • Admission to the Walls is free.
  • Parking: Valet, street
  • Drivers parking on the street in Wynwood will be required to pay $1.50 an hour and be limited to three hours in designated zones, according to the parking authority. Most payments will have to be made through a smartphone app, or by phone.
  • Bike racks: No
  • Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
  • Good for Kids: Yes
  • Dogs Allowed: No
  • Driving directions: Head east on NW 36th Street toward NW 5th Avenue, turn right onto NW 5th Avenue, turn left onto NW 29th Street, turn right onto NW 2nd Avenue, destination will be on the right.
  • Public transportation is available via the free Allapattah Trolley.
  • Personal photography is welcome.