Photo by Will Graham

Wynwood: A Brief History

Today, Wynwood is known as Miami’s vibrant Art District, attracting over 3 million visitors to the area annually, with over 70 art galleries, companies offering art tours, weekly events in the area, and the world’s only museum for graffiti. It’s considered one of the largest outdoor art districts in the world with hundreds of walls covered in bold street art, each being distinct to the artist who created it. However, Wynwood has a long history, and was not turned into the bustling art destination it is today until a few years after the millennium. 

In the 1920’s, Wynwood was established as a massive warehouse district, at one point being one of the largest garment districts in the United States. The area served this purpose for years until corporations began moving their manufacturing overseas in order to be closer to supply chains and to seek cheaper labor. Immigrants who had worked in the factories remained in the area raising their families, however with the construction of the I-95 highway through nearby Overtown in the mid 1950’s, many families vacated the area, and those who didn’t were subject to a rapidly declining neighborhood. The crime rate in the area rose and remained this way through the 1980’s, Wynwood even being a victim to destruction during the Miami riots of 1988. Many businesses were hit hard and few remained moving into the 1990’s.

2/16/1984: Wynwood.

Yet in 1993, the Rubell Family Collection art gallery opened in the neighborhood, showcasing fine art for the purpose of public education. Throughout the decade more galleries moved into the vacant warehouse spaces and the neighborhood began to see a revitalization. Fast forward to 2007 as Miami Beach hosted its first annual “Art Basel”, the city began to see an influx of tourists interested in the high-end art being shown in the Magic City. The only problem was that local artists, particularly street artists, were not seeing the same recognition and success as the gallery artists being shown. Street artists took to the Wynwood area, which was abundant with large, windowless walls that housed warehouses, and began to showcase their talent. Here they didn’t need approval to be considered artists and didn’t owe anyone a percentage to show their work. In 2009, Tony Goldman, American real-estate developer and arts visionary, opened the Wynwood Walls, one of the largest outdoor mural collections in the world.

As fascinating as the history of the area is, it’s important to note that the success of Wynwood wouldn’t exist without the works of every artist who’s contributed to creating the bright and dynamic environment we get to experience today. Local crews such as MSG, AIM, BSK, DFC, STV, WH, FS, WOW, DME, and DAM made their marks on the area long before artists around the world were commissioned to come down and paint. You may not understand who these crews are and may not take the time to recognize the signatures of each artist around a mural or piece that you see, but understand that without the work of these crews and street artists, the culture of free art we see in Wynwood wouldn’t stand today. 

Local artists have always championed to decriminalize painting in the area, even more so after the tragic death of local street artist Demz, who was struck by a police officer who attempted to arrest him for tagging a wall during Art Basel in 2014. The fact is that there’s nowhere else in the world with the walls that Wynwood has, valuable only because of the artists who came to paint them.

By Vicky Hoppe

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