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One of the nation's largest art fairs opens this week. Art Basel, Miami Beach is a week's worth of events that essentially take over the city and it's helped to make Miami an international art destination. NPR's Greg Allen reports on the neighborhood at the center of Miami's new creative identity - Wynwood, where mean streets and warehouses have given way to sprawling murals, galleries, and shops.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Days before Art Basel opened in Miami Beach, across the bridge, in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood, the party is already starting.
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ALLEN: At a trendy lounge and art gallery, a couple of hundred people are watching artists at work. It's an event sponsored by Heineken. Six street artists are putting their own interpretations on the beer maker's logo. Heineken also commissioned the artists to paint a series of murals on buildings in Wynwood, a neighborhood now famous for its street art. In fact, artists say finding good wall space in Wynwood is becoming difficult.
TREK 6: For Basel, I started looking for my walls as early as last February.
ALLEN: Trek 6 doesn't like the term street artist. He prefers to be called a writer, as in writing graffiti. But he says he doesn't like the term graffiti either. He's been putting his art on walls in Wynwood for years, starting back when it was a rough neighborhood of warehouses and shoe factories. Over just a few short years, he's seen it become the center of Miami's art scene.
6: Which is great because I saw this get transformed from a place where you don't want to ever get caught here to a place where now everybody at all hours of the night with family and everything are out here looking at murals, going into alleys, looking for artwork.
ALLEN: But for those who come to Wynwood for art, the first stop is often here - a grassy courtyard with walkways, tables and a restaurant surrounded by 40 large, colorful, arresting murals. It's Wynwood Walls, a public art space created by a developer, Tony Goldman. Goldman was a visionary who died earlier this year.
Long before Wynwood, he was known for preserving and developing New York's SoHo neighborhood and the art deco district in Miami Beach. His daughter, Jessica Goldman Srebnick, says her father envisioned Wynwood Walls as the developing neighborhood's town center.
JESSICA GOLDMAN SREBNICK: You feel the breeze in your hair and it's not intimidating. And so you can see children running around or you can see people with sketchbooks sitting on the grass and sketching something that inspires them.
ALLEN: There was art here long before Wynwood Walls. Two well-known private art collections have public galleries in the neighborhood and street art, Tony Goldman used to say, was in the neighborhood's DNA. Unlike SoHo or South Beach, Wynwood's architecture isn't particularly remarkable, but the blank walls of the neighborhood's boxy warehouses and factories drew artists to the area.
Tony Goldman's idea was to use art to help promote the neighborhood. Goldman Srebnick says her father took a gravel parking lot between some of his buildings, planted it with grass, prepared and lit the walls, and then invited great street artists in to collaborate.
SREBNICK: This piece is by Ryan McGuiness. I love this piece. It's called "33 Women" and it's unusual and it's sexy and it's super bright and really, really happy.
ALLEN: Many of the walls here are repainted after a year or two. Goldman Srebnick says some of the murals are so distinctive and powerful, though, that it's hard for her to imagine replacing them. She stops in front of one like that by Ron English. It's a painting of giant toy creations in bright greens, reds and blues. The colors appear to bleed off the wall onto the pavement and nearby rocks.
SREBNICK: It's kind of something where you would close your eyes and you could imagine this whole image of beautiful color and vibrancy and energy and kind of wacky creativity.
ALLEN: There's also a mural by Shepard Fairey. Fairey, who's best known for his iconic Obama "Hope" poster was working at Wynwood Walls last week. He was there to repaint his mural, which was deteriorating. In the center of the new painting is a portrait of Tony Goldman. Fairey calls him a friend, supporter, and someone who appreciated the value of creativity.
SHEPARD FAIREY: Creativity is a really important part of making communities vital. And the ripple effect from what Tony's done here in Wynwood, you know, it's extraordinary. You know, I think the whole neighborhood owes a ton, you know, to Tony for having that vision.
ALLEN: Throughout Wynwood, in an area that just five years ago was desolate, there are now galleries, coffee shops, restaurants and visitors. And much of it, Goldman Srebnick says, is because of the seeds her father planted with Wynwood Walls.
SREBNICK: Anyone that has, like, this passion and excitement for creativity, they want to come here. And I think that Wynwood is really kind of settling into its personality.
ALLEN: With Art Basel, there are special tours planned for Wynwood and Goldman Srebnick says she's really seen the second edition of a Wynwood Walls book. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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