Posted by Tyra Fennell in Arts & Economic Development, Blog, Tyra's World on December 6, 2016
Many dynamics were at play during the 2016 Wynwood Walls Arts Festival. It was great reconnecting with artsy friends, while discovering talent that could potentially contribute to murals in the Bayview Hunters Point in San Francisco. I have known about the mastermind behind the Wynwood Arts District Tony Goldman and, studied his career from building an arts footprint in SOHO, New York to South Beach and of course Wynwood in Miami. In 2013, 50,000 people visited Wynwood Walls’ Goldman Properties’ mural park on Second Avenue, which is the visual we all see when googling Wynwood Walls. Its artistic influence on the larger area is delightfully overwhelming. Prior to the launch of the Wynwood Arts Festival, Goldman who is a seasoned developer, purchased upward of 25 properties in the area, which explains the free flow of art that flowers the neighborhood for blocks and blocks. The Wynwood Walls concept illustrates what can transpire when you give artists free range to create? Absolute beauty.
Before Tony Goldman
Before Mr. Goldman began the Wynwood art project, it was mostly known as a desolate, drab, and sometimes dangerous warehouse district outlined by working-class housing. There was no place to grab a bite with one journalist writing about being held at gunpoint. This year during the festival, there was no doubt that the neighborhood was heavily policed. As we drove along a short 3-block radius, we counted at least 10 cop cars, laced with blinding, flashing lights. Exploring the back streets of the Wynwood District and surrounding neighborhoods, I realized why the police were out in such force. In addition to a vibrant arts scene, the Wynwood area is also home to an impoverished community of color and innumerable public housing complexes. This explained the heavy police presence, Wynwood was a culture clash of artists, arts patrons, tourists as well and the poor and homeless.
The blight and hopelessness around Wynwood was palpable, specifically in an area called Overtown, which has a sad history of a once bustling neighborhood, now fighting to maintain identity and growth during what Goldman framed as “Gentlefication.” Overtown, originally known as Colored Town during the Jim Crow era was once the preeminent center for commerce in the black community in Miami however, the area experienced serious economic decline from the late 1950s. Issues ranging from urban renewal to the construction of interstate highways like I-95(then, the North-South Expressway), the Dolphin Expressway and the Midtown Interchange in the 1960s, fragmented the-once thriving center with the resident population decimated by nearly 80 percent from roughly 50,000 to just over 10,000. The area became economically destitute and considered a “ghetto” as businesses closed and productivity stagnated in the neighborhood. Sound familiar?
It is clear that gentrification is currently on the rise with events like the Wynwood Walls Arts Festival. Heck, even David Beckham announced that he has secured land in the neighborhood for a future Major League Soccer expansion franchise in Miami. To fight for their place at the arts table and with all of the fervor around the Wynwood Arts Festival, a group of Black arts stakeholders launched Soul Basel in 2014 which, I had not actually heard of until researching for this blog. Soul Basel seeks to highlight artists from the African Diaspora while also re-building economic vitality in Overtown.
In 2015, I began building on an idea I had for the Egbert Avenue area of the Bayview Hunters Point District in San Francisco. The first person who toured the area with me and learned about my vision was my friend and longtime arts collaborator, Cameron Moberg aka Camer1. We met up at the Bayview YMCA and drove around the entire parameter of what we now call the SPRAYVIEW. I had faintly heard about Wynwood Walls but honestly the model of transforming industrial space with art is an age old, tried and tested practice around the world. As Cameron constantly reminds me, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Additionally, SPRAYVIEW seeks to ignite a new of street arts presence in San Francisco.
Over the course of the past two years, I have been building Imprint.City, the non-profit, home to several of the arts initiatives focused in the Bayview neighborhood including the BayviewLIVE Festival, Bayview SPRAC with the Flaming Lotus Girls and the biggest of all the projects, SPRAYVIEW. While, establishing the foundation of the organization, Cameron I continued to discuss how to begin the process of developing a mural arts festival and outdoor museum in San Francisco. This would include branding structures, signage and most importantly a host of property owners willing to lend their spaces over to artists. Building the SPRAYVIEW will require community engagement, support from City agencies and the respect and participation of artists. During one of our many planning sessions, Cameron and I decided, before we could move forward with the SPRAYVIEW concept, we needed to attend the Wynwood Walls Festival to see first hand how it all could work.
Arriving in Miami felt surreal. I hadn’t taken a vacation in two years so getting away from the intense hustle of San Francisco was nice, not to mention the weather in Miami is beautiful. I decided to stay in Coconut Grove, a quaint area on Miami similar to Hayes Valley. I wanted to have the ability to dive in and out of the bustling art world and reflect on each day in a serene environment. Cameron also secured several walls during the Wynwood Arts Festival and was able to introduce me to muralists from around the world. I spent the days wondering the streets like a voyeur, observing various art styles and connecting with and viewing the work of Bay Area art friends such as such as Ian Ross, Chor Boogie, Vanessa ‘Aquino’ Espinoza, Jeremy Novy and a Chicago-based artists named Max Sansing.
Next Up….The Artists!