At the entrance to the Wynwood Walls, a man clicks a counter as each Art Walk participant passes through the gate. Last month — in the dog days of summer, with dusk temperatures in the 90s — the tally was about 7,000.
Once a winter-only pastime, art walks are now a year-round obsession for Miami, even at steamy outdoor venues. And interest is growing. Last November, only about 3,500 turned out at the Walls, with its colorful murals by world-renowned street artists, according to Joe Furst, managing director of Goldman Properties Wynwood and board member of the Wynwood Arts District Association.
The growth isn’t limited to Wynwood. Spurred by a decade of Art Basel, a proliferation of performing arts venues and Knight Foundation grants, Miamians are becoming more engaged with arts.
With rising demand come more opportunities to get up close and personal with original art, artists, gallerists, collectors, culture lovers and scenesters across Miami-Dade County.
First Friday, second Friday, last Friday, second Saturday, third Saturday, last Tuesday — there are so many art walks you may have trouble keeping the dates straight — not to mention choosing the art walk that suits you best. While all have the same common thread, each has its own personality and vibe. Here’s a rundown.
Tucked away in an industrial corner between Coral Gables and South Miami, the Bird Road Art District is home to about 40 artist studios as well as two notable art schools. The area was designated an official art district by the county a dozen years go, but its monthly art walk has been around less than two years.
Cuqui Beguiristain of MANO Fine Art in the district says it’s like an urban oasis where visitors come specifically for contemporary art — by appointment or in hordes on the third Saturday of every month. Given the 24 square blocks of warehouses, the art walk crowd is prequalified: It’s the only thing to see or do in the area at night.
“I like to compare a visit to a treasure hunt. Some of the buildings look awful, but when people walk inside and see a live drawing session, they’re like, ‘Wow,’ ” says Beguiristain, who sits on the district’s steering committee with neighborhood artists. “Some of the other art walks have a built-in audience because there are restaurants and retail shops mixed in with art spaces. We’re different in that sense.”
The Bird Road Art Walk is set to celebrate its second anniversary on Oct. 20, and artists say attendance is up from last summer, with hundreds of new faces each month. The number of artists working in the neighborhood also has doubled in the last year, from 18 to about 40.
“The studios here are like movie sets. People love to see the artist’s mess — the back room where canvases are stacked up with the paints and brushes,” says Beguiristain. “Sometimes we sell more from MANO’s back room than what is on the wall in the exhibit area. People love the access, and the intimacy is what keeps them coming.”
Media include painting, sculpture, glass blowing and installations. Among the highlights are demonstrations by artists including Federico Scipioni, who puts an innovative spin on stained glass, and portraiture by Abdon Romero, who gives a three-hour painting and drawing class for $20 (including cocktails and hors d’oeuvres) at the Drawing Lounge.
There are also chances to interact with artists at the Bakehouse Art Complex in Wynwood, with 60 studios. Second-Friday visitors are treated to an exhibit in the gallery and are encouraged to meander the halls of the former bakery to chat with artists. The 25-year-old BAC, which supports emerging and mid-career artists, separated from the Wynwood art walk several years ago to create its own following.
Artist Daniel Fila, better known as “krave,” makes a point of being in his studio on walk evenings. The street artist’s 100-foot-long mural, The Sunbather, installed last winter on a Biscayne Boulevard building between 36th and 37th streets, is a conversation kick-starter.
“Consistency is key,’’ Fila says. “People know how to find me because I’m consistently in my studio at the Bakehouse. On some of the least expected nights, cool things happen.”
ArtCenter South Florida’s Studio Crawl offers a similar setup on the first Saturday of the month in a far different location, a bustling corner of Lincoln Road. The 28-year-old center exposes some of Miami’s best contemporary work to thousands of passersby in the touristy zone of South Beach.
Another long-standing art walk occurs on the first Friday of the month in Coral Gables. Virginia Miller, the venerable gallerist who has headed the Coral Gables Gallery Association for nearly 20 years, says Gables Gallery Night carved its niche in the 1990s by providing a gateway to Cuban and Latin American art.
Today there are two dozen venues for people to explore. The association provides a continuous minibus shuttle among the galleries from 6 to 10 p.m., and last year the city began running two trolleys to the galleries and the Coral Gables Museum as well as other stops.
In Little Havana, Viernes Culturales or Cultural Fridays includes an art fair, a free, historian-led tour of the district, salsa dancing, musical acts, shopping, domino competitions and Latin food. More than 4,000 people attend each month.
To capitalize on the passion for the neighborhood, Pati Vargas, executive director of Viernes Culturales, is introducing a monthly Little Havana Art Walk on Oct. 12 featuring 25-plus galleries concentrated in the Futurama Building and nearby blocks. Many of the works here are by contemporary Cuban-American artists, though you’ll also find some by masters such as Wifredo Lam.
A different idea
Brickell doesn’t have many galleries, so the founders of the Brickell Art Walk took a different approach, arranging for local artists to bring their work to the district’s restaurants and other venues on the last Tuesday of the month, a traditionally slow night for business.
“Brickell is known for its restaurants and party atmosphere. We wanted to turn down the level of intensity and make it more cultural,” says Felipe Garcia, the event’s executive director. “The idea is to help the artists sell their work and to support Mary Brickell Village by injecting some art into the heart of where a lot of young professionals live.”
With just two art walks under their belts, Garcia and his partner are pleased with the turnout, which he reports was 2,000 on opening night in late June.
“There are so many people who live in this area and all they have to do is press ‘L’ in their elevators,” he says. “It’s that easy for them to come and see a lot of amazing art by local artists.”
You can see what a potent combination smart marketing and high-quality art can be in the Wynwood Arts District and the Design District, where the monthly art walk has become a phenomenon.
With more than 50 galleries and celebrated private-collection museums, Wynwood has established itself as Miami’s epicenter of the cutting edge and avant-garde. By exposing this bold new era of eye candy to a larger audience, the art walk has helped catapulted the neighborhood to a higher level of legitimacy.
Just to the north, the Design District Art Walk has a different tone. The area has evolved into a mecca for high-end design, fashion and dining, and the de la Cruz Collection contemporary art space, added to the mix three years ago, has become a must-see on Art + Design Night.
In Wynwood, many of the galleries open early on art-walk day to accommodate visitors who want to focus on the art. The Wynwood Arts District Association is working with the city of Miami to eliminate illegal street vending and other unregulated activity on the district’s narrow sidewalks that detract from art-walk experience.
“Between now and December, we’ll learn how to control something of this magnitude,” says Nina Johnson-Milewski, owner of Gallery Diet and WADA board member. “If we do it right, the other neighborhoods that have recently started art walks will have a successful and safe model to follow. We don’t want anyone to have to go through the same growing pains that we’ve had to go through for the past six years.”
Despite those pains, Johnson-Milewski is a champion of the monthly event. She sees it as a public service to open her gallery doors to everyone on those busy nights.
“Not everything can be about sales,” she says. “It’s one of the advantages and one of the pressures of owning a gallery.”
Art fans fill the Warehouse Alternative Space during the Bird Road Art District Art Walk. Bird Road Art District