What I Learned In A Night Of Wandering Wynwood During Art Basel

Dec 7, 2012

Early Thursday, I was forecasting the long day and night ahead of me and came up with a plan: I would wander the Miami neighborhood of Wynwood for the night, and I would blog about it.  The specific assignment that I gave myself was to comb one block, and write a profile of all the street art and the happenings that I would bear witness to.  One block.  One story.  No big deal.

Easier said than done.

The issue that I found was the following: while I arrived at the neighborhood on my bike (I live right down the street), I had a hard time deciding where to start.  I would ride down one mediocre block -- which was filled with eye-catching art in progress -- and focus on my assignment for a moment until my my attention wandered somewhere in the distance, and I ended up contemplating the next block as the setting for my story.

To put it in other words, I felt like I was observing a redwood tree with a magnifying glass.

At its core, the issue was that there was simply too much competition for my senses.  Surrounded by such pandemonium and seeming chaos, it felt like a disservice to the subject to try to make some sense of it all, and to bring clarity to the madness.  Sometimes madness is just madness, and you either become the crazy one yourself, or you learn to submit.

I chose the latter, and began to wander the streets wide-eyed, trying to take it all in. 

While under this Art Basel-induced spell, I spoke to artists and visitors, and made the following observations:

1.  The Police Give Up On Wynwood During Art Basel

Pretty much anything goes here.  From illegal liquor vendors to shady makeshift structures and the aroma of marijuana every few steps, it’s obvious that this is what freedom from police looks like.  Not that it feels dangerous -- it doesn’t -- it just feels like the people have let their guards down. 

And this doesn’t even take into account the graffiti free-for-all that is taking place across the board.  With permission to paint granted or not, there is something clandestine about this art scene.

I just hope that saying this aloud doesn’t constitute "snitching."

2.  The Street Artist Is A Socialite

While many of us might think of the artist as a loner spending long hours in the studio in periods of intense concentration, the street artist is social by nature.  Any mission that he embarks on has to be a kind of collaboration with the building owners, with the artist painting next to him, and with the community at large.

3.  Wynwood Is The Idea Capital Of Miami

Payphone 2.0? A solar powered cellphone charging device at Fountain Art Fair
Credit Daniel Rivero / WLRN

This intense spirit of collaboration bears the fruit of innovation.  As forward-thinking, young and mobile people come together, they will keep surprising us.

Think of a solar powered cell phone charging station, like the one photographed at Fountain Art Fair.  Now imagine how useful this would have been on the streets of New York City in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

4.  Miami People Are Nicer Than They Get Credit For

It could be only the circumstance, and maybe we were all feeling the same buzz from the overall experience, but I swear this is true.  Not only were people open to being approached, but people approached me for friendly exchanges.  It felt kind of awkward in a progressive way.  

The infamous pretentiousness and rudeness seems to have all but disappeared from this Miami neighborhood, or at least from the people who frequent it.

Or maybe I’m just a hipster and they like me.  Or maybe we should all become hipsters.  I don’t really know.  This particular takeaway will have to be tested post-Basel.

5.  Tony Goldman Will Long Be Remembered

Goldman’s vision of this neighborhood is materializing before our very eyes.  From the vibrant colors on every wall to the eclectic sounds spilling out over speakers and the innovative businesses and pop-up shops springing up on every corner, the neighborhood appears to be reaching a critical mass for development and revitalization.

Mention his name to locals and they both know and appreciate his contributions.  Ask where they live, and you can hear the reluctance in their voices in proportion to how far they live from the neighborhood.  I would bet that most of them are quietly contemplating moving a little bit closer.

Hey, that’s how I got here.