by Cassia Reynolds
I recently day-tripped to Miami, Florida, just to get a taste of the flashy, tropical metropolis. It was my first time visiting the city, but I was traveling with a few childhood girlfriends, one of whom is a Fort Lauderdale local. She (mercifully) guided our group through the cluttered maze of freeways that dominates the landscape surrounding the downtown area.
The first thing I noticed as we exited the maze is that Miami’s architecture is extremely colorful. Unlike New York’s skyline, which lays out in an assortment of gray, beige, and chrome, there is no uniform to the buildings here. Graffiti is everywhere; huge, bright sculptures seem to spring out from the walls; and everything from parking garages to monuments is embellished with its own special, festive paint job.
My friends and I are all on your standard mid-twenties-can-barely-afford-my-rent-and-drinking-habit budget so we weren’t looking to blow cash on Miami’s infamous nightlife or glamorous fashion scene. Instead we wandered around for a bit, sweating in the muggy heat and people-watching on the boardwalk that overlooks the yacht-spotted port downtown.
We stumbled upon the Freedom Tower in the early afternoon, its intricate stone-and-copper spire sticking out in an area of otherwise contemporary buildings. I thought it might be a historic site, a landmark preserving early Floridian history, but when we wandered closer, I saw it was actually an art museum. Specifically, the Museum of Art + Design for Miami Dade College. And the banner dangling off the building side said admission was free.
Disclaimer: I love museums, especially art museums. I studied photography in college and am always ready to deepen my understanding of anything related to design or visual storytelling. So happening upon this spot felt like winning the lottery.
We spent about an hour in the Tower, drifting from one artwork to the next, puzzling over the messages of conceptual pieces, entranced by the lines of paintings and the curves of sculptures. In the hallway opposite the main gallery was a showroom dedicated to one artist’s photography. The walls were lined with large, bright prints of stark landscapes composed so strangely they appeared abstract.
As we were leaving, a young man standing near the entrance stopped me and asked what I thought of the exhibit. His dark eyes lit up when I totally geeked out, explaining that I loved the way the images were shot; I had a similar taste for aesthetics as the artist.
He held out his hand to shake mine.
“Sebastian Muñoz. This is my work.”
In a classic case of starstruck word vomit, I blurted out question after question about his technique and equipment. The artist laughed, humoring me until my friends finally dragged me away.
Afterwards, riding that visual-stimulation high, we decided to check out the Wynwood Art District, a recently-renewed, up-and-coming neighborhood. What used to be a neglected area of abandoned warehouses and factories has been given a new life by street art. The blocks are nearly completely doused in paint. It’s a wonderland of color as bright and overwhelming as a Dr. Seuss landscape. The large pieces on the building walls are commissioned, but the sidewalk is fair game to any willing artist. And the cement here is soaked in spray-painted stencils, spotted with stickers, and scrawled upon with freehand messages by artists known and unknown. It’s a fun, enthralling place for the creative mind to draw inspiration.
The neighborhood’s centerpiece is the Wynwood Galleries, a grassy, outdoors walkway that winds between several large buildings whose huge walls have been refurbished as canvases for murals. Admission here is also free. You can lounge on large rocks under gold-and-glass ornaments dangling down from tree branches or plop down in the grass and just stare at the complex scenes surrounding you. And if you get tired from the heat, you can sit under a multitude of fans in a covered area with a cafe.
The Galleries have been made famous by Art Basel and other outlandish showings,* but lesser known is the fact that you can tour the whole neighborhood for free. There’s a little stand right outside the start of the walkway. The guides there will take you around the surrounding blocks, giving you the lowdown on the artists and even some history on the area. It’s definitely a must-do for anyone interested in urban art - the Galleries are great, but there’s so much more to see. Our guide was a student who held an umbrella to shade himself from the blistering sun as he described the cultural impact and creative influences behind a multitude of artwork. It was informative, casual, and short (a blessing in the heat).
By the end of the day I was exhausted and my brain was in information-overload-mode in the best way. Before visiting Miami, I hadn’t expected it to have such a thriving art scene. I was completely ignorant of the booming alternative subculture that’s transforming its streets and brightening its landscapes. This city truly is a haven for artists and art lovers alike. And I have a feeling I barely scratched the surface on my short visit. So check it out!
*Art Basel is an international art show that takes place in Miami Beach, Basel, and Hong Kong every year. It's considered the world's premier Modern and Contemporary art fair and often attracts famous artists, critics, and celebrities.