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Written by Anne Tschida, BT Arts Editor; Photos by Silvia Ros   
December 2015

Art world to Wynwood: So long!

OCoverStory_1n a scorchingly hot midday in November, Gallery Diet’s large, brown electronic gate slowly opened, abracadabra style, revealing the gallery’s new art compound within the thick white walls built back in the 1940s. Two neighborhood women greet this visitor as they walk by, warning to take care to shelter from the heat.

Inside the renovated main gallery space, it is cool, reflecting the sparse architecture. This used to be a Haitian church, but it’s been refurbished with a few unpolished gray cement sections peeking out from the white walls and beams. In the courtyard, the several small structures that are part of the compound have been painted in bright colors, and an outdoor design show has been set up for the inaugural exhibition. It feels like a secret garden.

That hadn’t necessarily been the impression for some people on the official November 6 opening night, the week before. Gallery Diet is one of the first of Miami’s prominent galleries to have moved into the areas of Little Haiti and Little River. Diet is located on the 6300 block of NW 2nd Avenue, a poor but lively section of urban Miami.

Gallery owner and director Nina Johnson-Milewski hired a number of off-duty cops for the nighttime event, and the blur of flashing lights on police cars could have led an unsuspecting resident or visitor to wonder what kind of crime scene this was. To ease fears and to keep people from parking on the neighbors’ lawns, Johnson-Milewski offered free valet parking service. But for some who didn’t know about that and tried to park on a side street, it could have been a little unsettling.

The residents had not yet experienced the onslaught of rich art patrons landing in their neighborhood; the patrons were unfamiliar with this new, off-the-beaten-path territory -- and the police told everyone to please move on and valet park only. For our own safety.

Both daytime and nighttime visits encapsulated yet another major shift in the growth of Miami’s art scene.


TCoverStory_2he Mindy Solomon and Michael Jon galleries have already moved into the area, while Spinello Projects will be open in time for Art Basel. The Pan American Art Projects and Emerson Dorsch will arrive by spring. For now, ArtCenter/South Florida has a pop-up space. Other studios and artist-run spaces are also populating the neighborhoods that start roughly at 54th Street between Biscayne Boulevard and NW 2nd Avenue and up to the Little River at 85th Street.

Many of these galleries and studios have transplanted from Wynwood, a relocation that is sending shock waves through the art community. As Art Basel and its dozens of satellite fairs land in Miami for the 13th year, our own home-grown art world again provokes some big, important questions: Where are we as an art center? Where are we going?

For a couple of years now, Miami has seen a number of transformational moves. One of the region’s earliest and most prominent institutions, ArtCenter/South Florida, sold its flagship building on Lincoln Road, first opened in 1984, and closed up in the late spring. That left numerous artists without studios and looking for new homes.

The prominent galleries of David Castillo and Fredric Snitzer had left their Wynwood spaces by last year. The Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami (MOCA) imploded, with the board of directors forming a brand-new museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami -- now in the Design District -- leaving its old home with a depleted collection and, in response, a new vision, one more focused on work from the developing world.

Then this summer, in what seemed to be a rush for the exits, many artists and dealers began leaving Wynwood, the carefully crafted area that the city and businesses had been calling the Art District.

For many, it’s remarkable -- even startling -- just how quickly Wynwood emerged, and how rapidly it is now changing.

CoverStory_3The earliest art inhabitants included Locust Projects, Dorsch Gallery, and Rocket Projects, whose spaces sat on darkened, littered streets, filled mostly with warehouses and the occasional residential property. There was a notorious crack house next to Dorsch. You did not walk from one gallery to another in 2000 -- it was too dangerous.

But soon Snitzer and Diana Lowenstein moved over from Coral Gables, and new galleries sprouted, such as Castillo and Spinello. And like any area undergoing gentrification, developers were quick to see the potential. David Lombardi and Tony Goldman were early buyers and investors in Wynwood -- the latter best known for helping rejuvenate SoHo in Manhattan.

By the time Goldman opened the now world-famous Wynwood Walls outdoor mural gallery in 2009, Wynwood had officially arrived. Walking to galleries and restaurants was now the highlight of the monthly Second Saturdays art opening nights; the formerly lonely stretches were packed with people.

But it may have been too much of a good thing. Today it’s common to hear some variation on this: “Nobody goes there anymore -- it’s gotten too crowded.” In addition, artists were getting priced out of their studios, some of which had been nicely subsidized by developers for a time; and galleries were finding mostly inebriated young visitors rather than collectors and art aficionados showing up on Second Saturdays.

When the food trucks arrived, some former resident galleries say, it was the end of the road for them. Still, it’s likely some would have stayed if Wynwood had continued to be affordable, but it wasn’t. A little over a decade since it became an art destination, Wynwood has morphed into an entertainment district, with limited parking and pricey shops and restaurants.

Castillo moved to Miami Beach, and Snitzer closer to downtown. But most of the movement has been northward, above the Design District and into Little Haiti and, north of that, the Little River district.


ACoverStory_4nthony Spinello is giving a tour of his giant new space in the 7200 block of NW 2nd Avenue. With only weeks to go until his Art Basel opening, it was still under construction. With dust swirling everywhere, new walls and partitions were rising in the former auto-body shop, ready to display his fourth Littlest Sister Art Fair of all-women artists, plus several rooms featuring the artists he represents.

“I have goose bumps,” Spinello says. “It’s exciting to be here, there’s a new energy.”

He is about ten blocks north of Gallery Diet, but likely there won’t be any walking between the two -- at least for the time being. Plus, Spinello says, he has tons of parking.

Spinello, however, did not buy this sprawling space -- it’s owned by Avra Jain and Matthew Vander Werff, who own numerous properties in Little River and Miami’s Upper Eastside. Stepping away from all the drill noise, Spinello asserts that he’s not concerned about a repeat of Wynwood, where rents began spiraling after just a few years. He says when he was looking for a new space, Jain and Vander Werff impressed him with their vision, and he’s confident he can stay for a number of years.

Celebrating his ten-year gallery anniversary this year, Spinello claims that unlike some others in the art world, that’s all the time he needs. “In several years, I will be in a different position,” says the 32-year-old. “That’s when I may want to buy.”

CoverStory_5Down the street at Gallery Diet, that time had already arrived, says Johnson-Milewski. While those Second Saturdays in Wynwood were getting old, she had simply just outgrown the former space.

“At first, that was [the area] I wanted, close to peers, in a dense area, it was great,” she says of her gallery on NW 23rd Street, which she rented from Goldman Properties.

But after developing a clientele, the location wasn’t as important as the actual space. “We wanted room to show more design, and have an outdoor area as well,” says the Miami native. “It was time to own our space. That gives more freedom to expand into new directions.”

So what about leaving her central location in Wynwood, within walking distance of so many other galleries, and coming to this new neighborhood 40 blocks north? Any concerns about people finding her? Nervous about the new hood?

“Not at all,” she replies. “I’ve wanted to be a destination space for a while now, where people come and stay,” rather than bouncing from gallery to gallery. Johnson-Milewski says the new gallery is easily accessible from I-95 and is near the Biscayne Corridor. And the neighborhood? It’s not the dangerous streets people may think.

“Wynwood at night, especially initially [she opened Diet in 2007], that was scarier,” she recalls. “This is a real working-class neighborhood, and I’ve been trying to reach out.”

Johnson-Milewski explains that when she and her husband, Daniel, finally decided on this compound, “we wanted to make sure the people in the neighborhood didn’t feel they were being invaded. That’s why I hired the off-duty police for the first opening. On-duty officers didn’t need to take care of 300 extra people on one night, and the neighbors didn’t need people parking in front of their homes.”

The Diet compound does feel welcoming and intimate, making it the destination spot that Johnson-Milewski desires, with ample outdoor lounging space and small cottages that she wants to turn into homes for residencies. Besides, she says, “Let’s face it, we’re a driving town. It’s too hot to walk anyhow.”


MCoverStory_6indy Solomon moved her gallery down from St. Petersburg in 2013, wanting to be closer to the art action, and settling on the obvious choice of Wynwood. But the rent immediately went up, “and we weren’t getting the traffic, and the

She found a corner at NE 83rd Street and NE 2nd Avenue, in a building owned by developer David Lombardi, and opened up in September. “I’m still trying to figure out Miami,” she says, so she didn’t want to buy a space just yet, and instead signed a five-year lease. “In five years, who knows what life will be like?”

She’s on the same block as the artist-run GucciVuitton gallery and several artist studios in this commercial area at the northern edge of Little Haiti. Already, she says, the experience has been better than Wynwood: “Aside from the obvious congestion there -- the I couldn’t come because I couldn’t find a place to park -- I like this neighborhood here.”

Like Johnson-Milewski, she wants to be respectful of her new neighbors and has felt an openness. She’s already had the increased visitors she had hoped for, especially because of the proximity to Miami Shores. As for clients being worried about the neighborhood: “Safety is not a concern here.”

What Solomon is more concerned about is nurturing a deep-rooted art scene in Miami, regardless of where a gallery is located. “We need to be more visible on a national level, develop a quality art community,” she says.

These transplanted galleries point to a new direction: the need for a concentrated art hub is not seen as crucial as growing the individual gallery’s scope and depth. Some young art outlets may require the exposure that comes from a hot-spot corner in Wynwood, where pedestrians and art lovers may stumble across a space. But the more established galleries are entering a new phase.

From Castillo on the Beach and Snitzer downtown to galleries such as Lowenstein, Alejandra von Hartz, and Dina Mitrani -- all still in Wynwood -- to the newcomers in Little Haiti and Little River, these galleries are not relying on a unified opening night or even a new eatery to bring in a crowd. They’ve been developing their own artist rosters, in many cases much stronger than they were even a few years ago, and a dedicated following.

There is a palpable energy to this expansion, not unlike that of the early years in Wynwood.

At the official opening on November 6 of the Laundromat Art Space, a studio/exhibition space at 5900 NE 2nd Ave., near the famed pub and music club Churchill’s, the place was jumping. In the courtyard of this former laundry, there were Clive’s Jamaican chicken barbecue, champagne, and live music. Inside, there was an auction to help out this new artist-run space, founded by many refugees from the ArtCenter on Lincoln Road. The art looked handsome in the coolly renovated studios.


ACoverStory_7rtist David McCauley spearheaded the search for a new communal location after ArtCenter sold its main building. For him and fellow artists, location was a primary concern. “We were specifically looking in Little Haiti and Little River, as we wanted to centrally locate in a culturally rich neighborhood, accessible via public transportation, and affordable,” he says. They intentionally wanted to be part of a new scene. “I think it’s integral -- not only due to affordability, but to also contribute something creative and positive to the community.”

Like many gallery owners, McCauley and his colleagues are aware of the sometimes tricky process that an arts influx can instigate -- chasing out current inhabitants, pricing out businesses. But Laundromat is not a commercial enterprise.

“I do think the local community is accepting of our arts collective,” McCauley continues. “I love seeing the interaction between our programming and people from the neighborhood. We make sure everybody understands that they’re welcome and our doors are open to all. It was also an easy decision to move into a vacant building rather than displacing a local business. We’re currently planning our first community outreach event, where we’ll be offering silk-screening instruction to anybody interested.”

So far, he concludes, “it feels like we’ve created a great buzz in the Miami arts community without really trying to.”

CoverStory_8In another 5900 block, but several blocks west on NW 2nd Avenue, Brook Dorsch and his wife, Tyler Emerson-Dorsch, will be opening their new gallery in the spring. As one of the first arrivals in Wynwood, Dorsch was initially part of the push to make it a distinctive arts district, promoting better lighting, cleaner streets, and other civic improvements. He was among the very few who actually bought his building, and later revamped it from its humble warehouse origins into a gleaming exhibition space.

But the hectic scene, especially on weekends, wore him down. “It just got so crazy,” he recalls, “the traffic, all the bars, the food trucks.” And sounding like other gallery owners now up north, Dorsch says he and his wife came to the realization that their gallery was a destination, and Wynwood was actually keeping people from it.

Aside from the nightlife popularity, Dorsch says Wynwood was not ideal in any case: “We were on a side street, a little cut off.” In addition, the timing to sell a piece of prime real estate was perfect -- it sold for about $3 million.

The new location will be in a repurposed old grocery store, being designed by the same firm that renovated the Wynwood gallery, with clean horizontal lines and glass entrances. “It’s on a main thoroughfare, lots of traffic and botanicas around,” Dorsch notes. The building will contain two other spaces, and Dorsch says they will not be art-related. “They’ll be more community-based, culturally related to the surroundings,” he says. “We want to be sensitive to what Little Haiti has to offer.”

But can the Wynwood-ization really be avoided, even if the new art residents are more mindful of their neighborhoods? One case in point: a new business soon to be moving close to Dorsch will be...another Panther Café.

And Wynwood itself is not dead as an art center. It’s an iteration of the one that popped up just as the first Art Basel arrived. A decentralized art scene may suggest that Miami has grown and matured since 2000, with artificial boundaries and special designations no longer necessary. Time will tell.

 

For more information about the galleries mentioned in this story, and many more, please click here.

 

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