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Art Basel take two: Street art in Wynwood, it's complicated

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Muralation: An aerial shot of Ever's mural in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood.
PHOTO COURTESY OF EVER

Things are much more established now in Wynwood, which by most counts serves as Miami's arts district year-round. There are expensive coffeeshops and bars, fine restaurants, precious florists, and blocks of galleries selling accessible art. (During Art Basel week, one of these is given over to an artist who specializes in kawaii food art printed onto affordable decals and posters. An entire wall is covered in swirly-topped ice cream cones in a hundred color options.)

Though professional street art certainly existed prior to his engagement, this upscaling can largely be attributed to Goldman's speculative interest. Goldman's PR agency sends me press materials dubbing Wynwood "the next great discovery in the Goldman Properties portfolio." His company's general methodology is to buy up historic buildings in socioeconomically depressed neighborhoods and fill them with upscale businesses that attract more pedestrian traffic.

There is little doubt that Goldman envisions the future of Wynwood as a place where housing units rent for far more than many of its current residents can afford. His team has spent considerable time and effort working with Miami's city council on creating live-work zoning in Wynwood (not unsimilar to the type of zoning that loaded San Francisco's SoMa with high cost condos). After the Basel hangover has dissipated, I get a chance to talk with him.

"When I went to Wynwood and I had boxy warehouse buildings, it was a much different challenge for me," says Goldman during our decorous phone interview. "Now I could be free. Some people would look at ugly buildings and empty parking lots and loading zones — what I saw was an international outdoor street art museum. Huge canvas opportunities." He bought six of those buildings in the center of the neighborhood, two of which now house spendy restaurants run by his son and daughter.

Goldman is not completely without street art cred. Since 1984, he has owned a massive wall on Manhattan's Bowery and Houston Streets that has hosted murals from Keith Haring, Barry McGee, and Shepard Fairey. "[Street art] is freer in a lot of ways than walking in a museum, which a lot of street artists consider graveyards," he says. "Not that I agree with them, not that I disagree with them either. I think Wynwood Walls is one place that has validated the art form as an important contribution to contemporary art."

But Wynwood Walls also serves as the main attraction to an area in which Goldman Properties has monetarily invested. "It [is] a center place that the arts district really didn't have, a town square, a centerpiece that was defined architecturally," reflects Goldman. "It served its purpose."

But perhaps this use of street art as tool of gentrification is not so incongruous. After all, most if not all professional street artists are able to create murals only by selling gallery-ready pieces. Ever tells of painting a mural for Coca-Cola with studiomate Jaz, only to use his paycheck to create three more public walls. "The reality of art is you always need a rich person," he says.

Which is, more or less, to say that even in Wynwood, professional street art is not entirely soulless. Take for example one of Ever's favorite Wynwood pieces, done by Spanish artist Escif. The wall was so popular, in fact, it merited a cameo in a "Here Comes the Neighborhood" episode. And not for its bright colors or revolutionary design; it's just black capital letters on a flat white background.

But it does have a pretty direct message for good-intentioned folks in Wynwood. It says: "Remember, u're not doing it for the money."

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