Abandoned lots and barbed wire adorn auto-repair shops leading up to Robert LeClerc’s store in Wynwood, a neighborhood just north of Downtown Miami. Down the street, a family sells fruit out of the back of its truck across from a dilapidated building that calls itself a doctor’s office.
“In about four years, this will be the hottest spot in town,” LeClerc said. “This is going to be the new South Beach.”
LeClerc, the owner of Living in Art, an eclectic home décor boutique filled with man-made waterfalls, Buddha statues and colorful lanterns, is so confident in Wynwood because little by little a rising new community has been transforming the rough neighborhood into a trendy art district.
“Historically, art galleries move to areas in distress to find cheap rent,” said Francisco De La Torre, a UM graduate and gallery owner. “The area improves, rents get higher and the galleries that made the area hip in the first place can’t afford it anymore.”
De La Torre recently moved his gallery from Coconut Grove to Wynwood to escape high prices. Though he sees this phenomenon in Wynwood’s distant future, he is not as optimistic as LeClerc.
“It’s going to take a long time for that to happen here,” he said. “This is a place in transition- the forgotten part of town the city is finally trying to revitalize.”
Wynwood holds on to its working-class image, but the city’s efforts are notable. In the heart of the district lies a 645,000-square-foot retail development called the Shops at Midtown Miami, built in 2007. The development is comprised of more than 30 stores and eateries including Loehmann’s, Marshalls, Target and Five Guys Burgers and Fries.
The predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood is home to the Fashion District and is a part of the Design District, an area filled with art and furniture galleries, antique dealers, boutiques, restaurants and bars.
Art displays range from colorful spray-painted alleyways to contemporary paintings and sculptures on the walls of pristine white studios. Regardless of form, art is everywhere and some local artists believe this marks a shift in the personality of Miami as a whole.
“Miami is moving forward from a superficial city to a deeper one,” said Facundo Poj, furniture artist and co-owner of Poj gallery. “It is becoming mature enough for a real art district.”
Nearby hotels are now recommending a stroll through the art-filled streets of Wynwood to their guests, making it an “off-the-beaten-path” spot on tourist maps. Sonia Shahdadpuri, a college student from New York, experienced the area while staying at a downtown hotel with her family in January.
“Wynwood was a cultural side of Miami I didn’t expect,” Shahdadpuri said. “There was no glitz or glamour to it, but that’s part of what made it so refreshing.”
Wynwood hosts an art walk on the second Saturday of every month from 7 to 10 p.m. when art lovers and socialites can browse the exhibits, chat with the artists and enjoy appetizers, drinks and music.
“This is a great opportunity for the public to be exposed free of charge to world-class artists of all types within walking distance,” said R.E. Sanchez, the founder of Life is Art, an organization for networking within the art world. “It also offers people a chance to walk in the streets of our not so street-walking-friendly city.”
Even parking is free, Sanchez added, a rare find in Miami.
Life is Art is currently working on a fundraising party that will take place Saturdays at 9 p.m. Guests who give a donation will be able to enjoy the bar, art showcases and music by selected DJs.
The neighborhood is also one of the main sites of Art Basel, an annual contemporary art exhibition featuring street fairs, showcases, movie screenings and other cultural events that are recognized worldwide.
“I believe that as Wynwood continues to grow, we will see a serious shift in regards to Miami as a world-class arts destination,” Sanchez said. “Maybe someday it will rival places such as Chelsea and SoHo in New York City.”
Art Basel and Saturday evening art walks are the only times Wynwood is an evening destination. Most galleries lock up by 5 p.m. on weekdays and only take appointments on weekends, but the artwork sprawled across the neighborhood’s walls bring the shabby buildings to life and rival any work inside the galleries.
For more information or directions go to artcircuits.com.
Nina Ruggiero may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.