written by Richard Haden

The Wynwood Arts district is no more. The district needs a new salient attribute, a de-branding to strip away the now false claim, that the old warehouse district, turned arts district, is still an arts destination. Simply put, despite thousands of painted murals adorning thousands of walls and facades, it is no longer an arts district. Although a few art galleries remain in the bourgeoning prosperity of this commercial district, it is a matter of time before leases run out, giving the gallery owners the opportunity to hightail it for cheaper / affordable space.

The commercial developers of the Wynwood district got what they wished for, while the arts community did not. Instead — in hindsight, the arts community contributed to its own demise by unwittingly being used as a co-conspirator in providing cultural prestige to its commercial cousin, the restaurant, bar and boutique district, at its own expense. While the consumerist side of the equation won, the less profitable arts community lost its mooring to the tsunami of rising rents.

All but a few notable galleries have migrated, moved out, self-exiled seeking economic asylum elsewhere from that monstrous, heavily capitalized entity which continuously feeds off the short lived heartbeat of gullible cultural producers and art galleries that continuously regroup into new affordable districts. The collapsed bulwark of the Wynwood arts scene has moved to less expensive frontiers once again. It’s a cultural diaspora of sorts, that has hopefully learned a lesson that it can carry with it — this go-round — to Lemon City, Little River, Little Haiti, North Miami, Little Havana or where ever 180 degrees of separation is located.

At Gallery Diet’s new address.

The first significant galleries that started the trend to relocate out of Wynwood district were Locust Projects, David Castillo, Spinello Projects, and Snitzer, while Emerson Dorsch, Mindy Solomon and Gallery Diet soon followed. Castillo moved out of the district simply because he got tired of the excessive commercialized circus that erupted every “Second Saturday” in a huge lot next to his gallery, as a commercial corral for the once, meaningful art-walk. The lot was once owned by one of the usual suspects — whose real-estate business — like other real-estate developers rode the coat-tails of the arts community — unfortunately — appropriating then détourning that trajectory into a lubricious zombie strolling zone for that contemporary flaneur seeking, not an art experience but a relative safe stop to take an inebriating selfie amongst others awash with free gallery booze — before heading to the clubs.

This gallery exodus was not only limited to those fleeing economic oppression in Wynwood but included those downtown galleries, project spaces and studios which emerged as guest residents from likeminded developers who also calculated that co-opting cultural migration — by hosting it — a good thing to exploit. The Michael Jon Gallery left first, with the Bas Fisher, Dimension Variables and Turn-Based Press, soon to follow after December’s annual art week. While most galleries have migrated to the upper east or west side of 2nd avenue, miles above Wynwood, a couple of art spaces, namely Yeelen Gallery and the [&] gallery were already there — were the first to pioneer the upper west side, below 79th street in 2011 and 2014.

I visited Occupy Wall street before running the NY Marathon.

There should be a lesson to learn from all this. And that lesson should point to answering the question: how does a commercial gallery or a non-profit project space keep its rent, mortgage or operating expenses affordable for the long haul? The answer to that question obviously lies with understanding the dynamic forces at play in urban development and understanding its two categorical approaches: gentrification and urban renewal.

The difference between urban renewal and gentrification can be summed up in a nutshell: Urban renewal (urban regeneration) restores a neighborhood’s basic function, close to its original use and demographics before it withered towards abandonment. Whereas gentrification, is funded by wealthier individuals for wealthier individuals to accelerate renovation to intentionally surpass the original use, which in effect aggressively increases property values that eliminates opportunities for low-income, small business, shops, entrepreneur’s or the atelier from injecting innovation into the district. Put another way, wealth is attracted to wealth affirming branding.

I am not complaining that the Wynwood district’s gentrified success, was necessarily an incarnation of pure evil — because the warehouse district needed renovation. Much of the area was boarded up and needed a resurgent influx of healthy bodies. Yet, when comparing the results between Urban renewal and gentrification, I am one who weighs the value of urban renewal far higher than gentrification, for a couple of reasons:

Firstly, gentrification, more often than not, recuperates and sustains the vicious cycle that inflates real-estate bubbles — causing yet more desperate economic migration, when speculation implodes — leading back to the need for more redevelopment. Secondly, the socially depredating impact of forcing existing, communities to break up, for capital gain, is the epitome of moral corruptness. (As well, environmentally speaking, those who pretend to defend environmental sustainability while profiting from invested involvement in the vicious cycle of re-developing neighborhoods, for no reason other than self-centered financial gain, are livid abominable hypocrites)

Kinda, sorta-accidentally got paint on my NY Marathon running shoes at OWS

There are obvious ways to maintain long term affordable communities, without being complicit with gentrification. One way is to heavily regulate real-estate property sales, to discourage speculative flipping…this is the norm in some European cities (a pipe dream here in Miami though). Another way is to realize that we fortunately still suffer from American pragmatism which enables us to use tactics to counter the strategies behind redlining and other fiscal maneuvers that developers use to undermine community stability. While the obvious solution is to buy a cheap building / property in a neighborhood, without the intention to flip it — while those who can not afford to buy property, know they must negotiate a long term lease in the same neighborhood that does not look like a future target for the gentrifier.

I assume that everyone already knows all this, so why has Miami’s arts community been so bogged down, with constant economic issues rather than wrestling with contemporary arts issues? Well, perhaps, times have finally changed, due to a sudden awakening by those who currently pilot our favorite cultural producing spaces. Whether by chance or circumstance, it seems to me that gallerist might have possibly managed to remedy the troubling economic situation in their favor, by relocating to more sustainable locales — By finding the courage to move to the hood or thereabouts.

McArthur Dairy, Miami

Basically, gallerist have decided to take the risk, take the gamble, to not alienate their patrons by moving to what appears to be — with jaw dropping naive awe — the most risky, even verging on most dangerous neighborhoods to navigate. Yet to me, I have lived in, and have been running through these areas, for the better part of seven years. These areas are not risky at all — as long as one knows how to get along in the hood.

And given that whiteness has historically chosen to segregate itself from its alterity here in Miami, I find it positively amazing and wonderful to witness, what hilariously looks like a “white diaspora” finally moving beyond its comfort zone.

What makes these so called “dangerous” areas worth moving to is simply that they are cheap. The rent or warehouse property is cheaper than other areas close to the Miami avenue corridor, below the actual “Little River”. The Wynwood district was once one of those risky areas too, that the gentry, at first, was afraid to visit. But unlike Wynwood, the North East and North West 2nd Avenue corridor, running through Lemon City, Little River, or Little Haiti has a strong residential component which helps control the kind of stable growth that is good for an art gallery to succeed in. This is so, because much of the residential housing is fixed, low income, middle income, section 8 or other fixed or subsidized housing stock mixed with market rate housing, that is, for now, immune to erasure. In other words, the existing residential community is home as a semi-permanent autonomous zone.

To see this, one can search the Miami Dade County property appraiser website that archives real-estate property details such as, last sale, sales history, market value, tax value, building size, lot size, extras, et cetera. I have embedded the website address here: http://www.miamidade.gov/propertysearch/#/ for your perusal. This website is a great tool to keep track and possibly predict real-estate trends, for better or worse, with various degrees of accuracy.

Rear view of previous tenant’s auto-body shop at Spinello’s new location.

For instance, in researching various neighborhood addresses surrounding where galleries have recently relocated to, one gets a sense of the gallery’s neighborhood. For example, In Little Haiti, a couple of blocks from where I live — the Mindy Solomon gallery moved to 8397 NE 2nd Avenue. A couple doors north of where GucciVuitton, opened just over a year ago. Both addresses were bought by Lombardi-properties, the same developer who once owned the lot next to Castillo. Lombardi-properties, is amongst others developers who have recently spread their tentacles in these parts. Hopefully, the outcome will be positive, this time, for a thoughtful kind of speculation could be great for a growing district that wants diversity. And if this is accomplishes, then this area will maintain a mixed demographic. Hopefully their tentacles won’t replicate the same tragic economic forces that fueled the cultural demise of the Wynwood ARTs district.

From Solomon’s gallery, just over a dozen blocks south, the Michael Jon Gallery re-located to 255 NE 69th street just off NE 2nd avenue. This area is loaded with warehouses and is bordered to the west by fixed rate rental housing that will likely stay reasonably affordable for years to come — yet on the east side of NE 2ND Avenue its another matter because it is an industrial / commercial area whose growth is not particularly limited by residential zoning laws that dampen commercial / industrial expansion. So this area can go either way — stay moderately priced — or continuously rise like the rising seas caused by global warming. On a side note, the McArthur Dairy’s sprawling compound is located in this area and it is an impressive facility despite its noticeable aromatic presence during the summer months.

Spinello Projects in progress.

Due west of NE 2nd ave, across the North / South spine of Miami, is the NW 2nd Avenue, corridor, starting at about NW 54th running to NW 73rd street, this is another trendy area where arts, crafts, makers spaces have relocated. Spinello Projects has rented a space next to the railroad tracks at 7221 NW 2nd ave, that is currently being renovated. The building used to be an auto-body shop not long ago. (interesting that Spinello has this auto-body motif going on…echoing his last years enormously successful, heavily curated Auto-body woman centered video and performative project during last years Basel Art week) The neighborhood is relatively safe with plenty of parking close to the gallery with a dollar store across the street that assures pedestrian traffic and cheap beer.

I think the NW 2nd avenue corridor the better bet for longer periods of economic stability simply because the neighborhood has a strong existing residential population that shares a common thread with the arts. That common interest is the desire to keep rents low—this neighborhood is not in need of urban renewal and certainly is not a clear target for gentrification, due to its semi-permanent subsidized and low-income housing stock on both side of the street.

Emerson Dorsch’s new location before renovation.

Due south, below Spinello’s new project space, is Gallery Diet’s new location at 6315 NW 2nd Avenue, across the street from the [&] Gallery, located at 6306 NW 2nd Avenue. The area has historically been called Lemon City which borders the south side of Little River and north of Buena Vista.

Of of all the recent galleries taking part in this cultural diaspora, I think Gallery Diet might have made the best move, for her newly acquired compound was purchased for approximately $427 K, which is below the previous offering price that I saw, back some six years ago. Which obviously tells me that the value of the property is fixed, stagnant, and the property taxes are stable except for any appraised taxable improvements. Gallery Diet’s property has stagnated in value over the years because across the street is solidly fixed with affordable housing, section 8, some of the oldest freestanding projects that exist in Miami and other income qualifying permanence that keeps the gentrifying wolves at bay. Yet the neighborhood can be a bit scary to one who is used to the rent a cop mood of the design district or Wynwood — but I am sure that each side of the cultural curb will get used to each other just fine. As well, the bonus for the community and gallery alike is that Edison middle and High-school are close by which gives educators the opportunity to take kids on convenient gallery tours.

Clive’s Cafe, next door to Emerson Dorsch.

Below Gallery Diet, at 5900 NW 2nd Avenue, we find that Emerson Dorsch has purchased a property, at twice the value of Gallery Diet. But unlike Diet’s location, Emerson Dorsch’s new location is already a diverse ethnic demographic commercial district. I hope, like the east side, the already existing ethnic diversity will echo an already culturally diverse demographic as the commercial district ebbs and flows — maintaining its less desirable appeal to that hawkish gentry who seems obsessed with reproducing that simulacrum of luxury modern utopianism, that so overwhelms Miami of late. I hear that Panther Coffee may move next to Emerson Dorsch — that could be an interesting competition between the low cost but high caffein content of my preferred coffee drink, the affordable colada, cortadito or cafe con leche.

Vandalized property on NW 62nd street close to Edison Middle school.

In conclusion, I look forward to visiting these galleries regularly. For over the past 7 years I have been running through all of these and other Miami neighborhoods. And as a runner who runs spontaneously at irregular hours, I feel safe running through any of these neighborhoods, at anytime of day or night. However, one thing to keep in mind, is that parking is a serious issue, carry bikes inside and even though these are public streets, it is not polite to park in front of someones house just because you assume its a legal spot to do so. And it is legal to do so, but keep in mind that people who live in these communities may be wary of the arts invading the community because the arts have a track record for being the tool of gentrifiers. In addition we have seen how large events in, lets say, the design district, that has caused signs to go up requiring residential parking stickers—-It would be nice if that could be avoided is these communities. So, I think it profoundly important, to act as “Politically Correct” as necessary while also remembering that we are all diplomatic members of a transcultural journey — where ever we shall travel.

Photo images provided by Richard Haden.
www.richardhaden.com

1 COMMENT

  1. Excellent article Richard. Tragically true. And as you say let’s keep a look out for those tentacles….they know no bounds.