The various logos of the Miami Arts Districts: Design District, Wynwood Art District and Downtown Miami

MIAMI — As with any developing city the arts community is in continual search for large and affordable work and exhibition space. Miami’s Wynwood Art District and later Design District have been for over a decade hubs for artists and galleries moving into large warehouse and empty storefront spaces. Wynwood is less of a gun-wielding neighborhood and now full of restaurants, bars and coffee shops inviting collectors to hang around the area. DACRA run by visionary developer Craig Robins actively provided exhibition spaces to artist run co-ops such as Bas Fisher Invitational and Dimensions Variable (including studio space for artists) and later attracted Locust Projects and Primary Projects to the area. This was a conscious move by DACRA in an attempt to gentrify the area, and now with Louis Vutton moving into the Design District by 2014, the area is being shuffled and shifted to accommodate what is predicted to be an onslaught of high-end fashion and design shops. As a result, artists and spaces are being asked to move providing an opportunity for other Miami districts to offer space to artists? Or will Robins retain these artistic powers and move these groups to outlying areas of the district that have not yet been gentrified?

Locust Projects new space in the Design District. (photo courtesy Locust Projects)

It is evident that long-term alliances have been made between arts groups and property developers. Locust Projects recently moved into the Design District and only a few doors down to what was the former Placemaker space (an artist run space organized by Daniel Arsham and Martin Oppel). It opened its new doors last weekend, and the space proved to be both large and luxurious while giving the space a project room to further its programming. Debra Scholl, Chairperson of Locust Projects, has to to say about the move:

“Locust has been in the Design District now for three years. We moved from the Wynwood area after being there for over 10 years. And when our lease was up we decided to stay in the Design District. This was in great part due to the fact that the Design District provides a real sense of community both architecturally and personally. I also think the synergy of fashion, art and food makes it a welcoming area to different cultures.”

Jim Drain in Practices Remain. (photo courtesy the author for Hyperallergic)

The Design District also caters to pop-up exhibitions in otherwise unleased spaces. One impromptu exhibition, Practices Remain, opened on March 11 and featured the work of 13 of Miami’s who explored “distinct artistic systems engaged in studio undertaking.”

Despite losing Locust Projects a few years back, Wynwood Arts District continues to boom with a handful of quality galleries holding their ground amongst a plethora of inconsequential spaces. The crowds that attend every second Saturday’s Art walk include artists, art fans and people out for a good time. Many galleries now offer a preview evening on Friday night so collectors can beat the rowdy crowds. One of them is Dorsch Gallery who was the first gallery to move to Wynwood District. Owner Brook Dorsch recalls:

“The fact that in 2000, when I lived in the back of the gallery — I heard gun shots, walked out and smelled the toxic smell of local manufacturing, garbage and chop-shops … Now I walk outside and smell Peruvian Specialty Coffee being roasted, people sitting outside with laptops on NW 2nd ave.”

Would he move?

“Although the vibe in Wynwood has changed (friendlier, coffee shops, bars, foot traffic) I still really love the feel of the warehouse spaces — the mix of empty streets with hidden gems behind the loading dock doors, the mix of old Miami homes next to designer shops. And when you enter the galleries the spaces themselves have this surprise that the storefronts in the other areas can’t duplicate.”

Artist Daniel Milewksi recently opened up Lesters, a coffee bar on NW 2nd Avenue, and he is enjoying the increased attention in the area.

“The community in Wynwood has grow dramatically in the past couple of years and it’s really been a pleasure to watch this happen and to witness people from both in and outside of the immediate arts community become engaged and interested in what’s been happening here.

Miami Art Museum Director Thom Collins explains the new building (left) designed by Herzog & de Meuron (right). (Photo by author and mock-up still courtesy MAM)

Wynwood is not the only major transition. Museum Park is under construction with PAMM (The Perez Museum, Miami formerly the Miami Art Museum) scheduled to move in to its truly magnificent Herzog and de Meuron-designed building in 2014. Skeptics of the new name may be dissuaded once they see the site that is in the midst of a major transformation that supporters hope will raise the statue of the museum.

While taking part in a site tour it is clear the building has been created as a destination in and of itself. The new building will open in the park next to the new Miami Science Museum and opposite the existing Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, thus creating an institutional arts hub off highway 95. But the changes will not be confined to the arts arena and a number of high-priced condos are also popping up close by. Yet these new buildings are too pricey for the local crowd but there seems to be a strong impetus for developers to offer spaces at more affordable prices. There have also been mutterings of artists partnering with real estate owners in the immediate area in the hopes of finding work and exhibition space at a good rate. Sonja Bogensperger, Senior Marketing Manager at the Miami Downtown Development Authority (Miami DDA) is confident of the potential:

I don’t think there will be a question where the cultural center lies once Museum Park opens in Downtown Miami in 2014.

Wherever they end up, the attraction of a new and developing area provides artists with interesting new challenges, provided of course they are given the space and time to make work.

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Claire Breukel

Claire Breukel is a South Africa-born contemporary art curator and writer. Her interest is in contemporary art that falls outside of conventional modes of exhibition, and often affiliated with “developing”...