June 28, 2012 by Danny Olda
I stared out the window as we drove up I-595 on our way out of Miami. Single story, brightly painted garages and warehouses, street art murals, numerous galleries: “That looks just like the Warehouse Arts District!” In actuality we were driving by Miami’s Wynwood Arts District. The Wynwood neighborhood is arguably America’s most important art neighborhood outside of New York city limits. Perhaps it was the visual similarities between the two districts that inspired my optimism. But maybe, just maybe, the Warehouse Arts District, too, can one day be a national game changer of a neighborhood.
After all, in Florida’s Bermuda-Triangle-style real estate climate, expecting a neighborhood similar to Manhattan’s Chelsea or even Brooklyn’s Williamsburg area are frankly unrealistic. However, Miami’s Wynwood – that just might work. So how does our WAD become the cock of the walk that is Miami’s WAD? Here is a check list to get it going. Don’t despair: the Warehouse Arts District can already cross some of these off.
Low rent neighborhood for artists and galleries. Artists are generally poor; they’re not starving artists by choice. Getting them to congregate in one neighborhood require’s affordable rent.
Warehouse/garage spaces that make for good gallery spaces and studios. This is self-explanatory - a lot of space is good for working artists. I’ve also been hearing the term “industrial-chic” lately. I suppose the grittiness can look cool in its own way. On an unrelated note, if you ever hear me utter any word followed by “chic”, please drown me.
Recognition from the city as an important cultural neighborhood. To be honest, Miami, like St. Pete, didn’t exactly give their WAD much recognition until it became clear that the arts makes crap-loads of money. Crap-loads. Recognition is recognition, though, right? Seriously, cooperation and help from the city is vital. St. Pete annually budgets money for arts organizations that would be near impossible to operate without.
World-class art fairs that funnels thousands of art-lovers (and collectors) to the neighborhood. Through Art Basel Miami and satellite fairs, December is the only time of the year Miami may be more important than NYC. I realize St. Pete can’t realistically expect a fair of Basel magnitude any time soon (if ever). That doesn’t mean we can’t host a quality contemporary art fair. Main Sail and Gasparilla Arts Festival? Please. We could use a fair that doesn’t appeal exclusively to the senior citizen set.
Art galleries in touch with national trends, pushing the conversation forward. This may be the most important piece. Everything else will grow organically if the district has a base of galleries/spaces in touch with contemporary art thought. Otherwise, the area can easily regress into a kitsch district. Think St. Augustine’s Historic District without any of the history.
Art collectors that live in the area or at least visit often. I hate to say it, but art collectors are still one of the main catalysts to good art. Tourists demand chotchkies. Serious Collectors demand quality contemporary work. While it’s better to supply the latter, unfortunately it’s easier to supply the former. It seems that nearly all of (the few) collectors that head our way land just South of us in Sarasota. In the mean time we’re plentiful in the next best catalyst: good schools. The University of South Florida, the University of Tampa, and the Ringling College of Art and Design are all producing a respectable pool of new artists.
The arts and their support have strengthened exponentially in the Bay area as of late. It could be my love for St. Pete and Tampa saying this but I think we may soon be poised to bring our voice to the national table. It may soon be time to widen the cirlce of those benefited by our art scene to well beyond the bay. I’d hate to see the chance squandered.