Has Street Art Redeemed Miami's Soul?

As a travel writer people often ask me which cities I want to go to next. I don’t care, that I want to go everywhere. This is a lie. Of course, if someone paid for me to go anywhere in the world, barring any civil unrest, I would go. But I do have a no-travel list when it comes to shelling out my own money.

London is at the top of that list. A cold, dreary city that serves mediocre food would only be travel-worthy if I was attracted to its men. I am not, so I have never found a good reason to go. Montreal is on that list too. Mostly because it is cold, but also because if anyone is more pretentious than the French it is the French Canadian.

And then there is Miami. Despite a strong affinity for Latin American culture, beautiful beaches and Spanish-speaking men, I have long avoided this Floridian city assuming it was little more than a flashy cesspool of selfie-loving barflies. A city lacking in any real substance, like Las Vegas without the slot machines and Midwestern tourists. I pictured superficial men renting Ferraris to impress equally superficial women with money they didn't have. But I have been known to be a judgmental a-hole in my own right whose assumptions about places were flat-out wrong, so when I was invited to Miami for a long weekend I decided I should go to check it out. Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said travel was fatal to prejudice? And if all else fails, they do have beautiful beaches.

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While I was not in the city long enough to make any firm judgements - and no analysis of the city would be complete without a trip to Little Havana, one that I did not have time to make - parts of Miami were exactly like I thought they would be. At night, thongs of women in low-cut (like down to their belly button low-cut) jumpers and stilettos huddled together holding  $22 cocktails pretending to listen, but looking past, the person in front of them. Men occasionally broke free from bro-groups to strut around only to return to talk to their friends. How anyone could hear anything over that God-forsaken EDM was beyond me. And what was everyone talking about? Were they talking about how if we could replace fear with love in politics we could create more just social policies or the fact that if you slow down the sound of crickets chirping they sound like a celestial choir and that in-and-of-itself is enough proof for God?  Or were they betting on how many nip-slips would go down over the course of the evening or regaling stories about butt implants or penile injections gone wrong? My guess was no and because those are the only conversations I like to discuss on vacation I went back to the hotel.

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The next day we laid poolside at the infamous Delano Hotel, a revamped 1940s Art Deco hotel.  The billowing white fabric draped lobby gives way to a whimsical back gardens with giant chess boards. Leggy Eastern European waitress in bikinis serve $300 bottles of Veuve Clicquot Rose to cabana-dwelling guests laying around the large rectangle pool. The scene was so fabulous I felt like I had stepped into the pages of The Great Gatsby. Until the DJ set up and the EDM started. Seriously who likes this music?

Later that evening, I met up with a local art and culinary tour guide to explore the uber-hip outdoor museum known as Wynwood Walls. The world’s best artists paint over-sized murals on the the facades of six warehouses. The 1.6-acre gallery is one of the largest concentrated public displays of street art showcasing more than 30 major works of art. It is also the primary catalyst for transforming what used to be a sketchy part of town into one of the nation’s hottest urban neighborhoods. Distinguished galleries, movie houses, culinary academies, microbreweries, artisan bakeries, craft-coffee shops and art-focused restaurants encompass Wynwood Walls.

“Ten years ago no one came into this area, not even police,” my tour guide Mirka Harris said. “Men with sawed-off guns would be standing outside these warehouses, which were basically chopshops, protecting their loot of stolen car parts. But now look at it.”

At 5 on a Friday night the sidewalks winding around the museum's murals were packed with tourists, families, groups of friends and couples. It was hard to walk around without accidentally photobombing someone’s next Instagram post, but the artwork is truly amazing.

Shepard Fairey, known for his Obey campaign and Obama’s Hope posters, was one of Wynwood Walls original artists. His red and beige piece facing Second Avenue includes a references to human rights, climate change and war and an image of the Burmese opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama and Martin Luther King Jr.

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Octophant by Alexis Diaz

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Puerto Rican muralist Alexis Diaz is known for his painting technique that uses thousands of tiny black brushstrokes to create extraordinary murals. This piece features a dreamlike state of metamorphosis as the elephant fluidy morphs into an octopus.

American Power by Tristan Eaton

The Los Angeles street artist grew up painting everything from dumpsters to billboards in the urban landscapes of the cities he lived. His latest piece American Power is a tribute to the women who are turning the tide against abuse of men in power.  

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Nothing Last Forever by David Choe

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Los Angeles based artist David Choe layered an explosion of colors and edges to create the 70-foot mural. A woman’s head emerges out of the centerpiece of the mural while characters loom on the periphery. In addition to being competent with paint he also designed Jay Z’ and Linkin Parks’ album covers, directed music videos for Gorillaz and Deltron 3030 and helped Vice transition from traditional print media into more engaging video work. The man is pretty much a badass.

Lemon Vodka and Churros by Logan Hicks

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Logan’s late-night/early-morning walks around New York City inspired this moody, reflective nightscape. His intricate stenciled mural came together to create a 40-foot by seven-foot wall.

I am not even sure this is the soul of Miami, but the artwork was fucking awesome.