In the bowels of Craigslist, buried in the catacombs of ‘Community’ is an ad with a plaintive plea. “WE NEED A MURAL!” its title reads in all caps. “SHOW US WHAT YOU CAN DO!” It’s a pithy post, no longer than one sentence, with a photo of a long, single-story warehouse. From its base to its asbestos shingled roof, the building is coated in the same drab grey hue. One half of its awning (also grey) reads, “Warehouse Project;” the other half, “Men’s Corner.” It definitely needs a makeover.
“It’s pretty ugly,” says artist and gallery owner Danilo Gonzalez, who commissioned the ad. The building, a former apparel storage facility, had been abandoned for over five years when Gonzalez signed the lease back in 2012. The surrounding neighborhood was a ghost town and the only nearby business was the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse. But Gonzalez had a hunch that things would change. Development in Wynwood, he believed, was to going move west, towards the freeway, not east towards Miami Avenue. “People thought I was crazy.”
Today, Gonzalez’s 27th Street art mecca, the Wynwood Warehouse Project, is a testimony to his perspicacity. “There was nothing happening here three or five years ago,” he said. “Now, everybody is moving this way exactly as I predicted.” But with change, comes progress, and with progress, people. The Wynwood of today is certainly not the Wynwood of a few years ago. What was once a haven for grit and creativity is now a hotbed of glitz and gourmands. Wynwood Arts District, you say? Wrong, sweetie. It’s Wynwood Café District.
Looking to brighten up his spot, Gonzalez and the second-annual Extract Street Art Fair opened a contest to find an artist to transform the façade. The first place prize includes $1,000 and painting the outside of the building, while second place gets multiple winners display space in the Extract Art Fair. Multiple third place winners will get their own plywood display to live paint during Art Basel. The winner will be announced next week, Gonzalez says.
The demise of the arts district in Wynwood is never far from Gonzalez’s mind — even when he’s smiling, which is practically all the time. “A lot of my work is about trying to preserve the street art in the arts district,” he said. “If we take that away, Wynwood is going to lose its enchantment.”
Gonzalez’s gallery, with it’s lounge, café, art supply store, and evening events are one means of preserving the culture, along with Extract. The finished products will go on display at next year’s event and last year’s artwork will go on display this year.
“Just to be able to paint in Wynwood during Art Basel is a really cool thing,” said Jason MacGregor, a graf artist from Dallas who will teach a stencil painting class at the event. “Not everyone can say they’ve painted in Wynwood.” Or better yet: painted a mural in Wynwood.
The winner of the mural competition (which ended November 13th) won’t be chosen for another week, but Gonzalez already knows what he wants — something unique and recognizable. “I want a mural that people can say, ‘Look for…’ and find it,” he said. “I want a landmark.”