Wynwood Walls: Miami’s Take on an Open Air Museum

McMullen Student Ambassador Alex Hull, MCAS 2021, reflects on part of her winter break in Miami, Florida.

When I hear the words, “art museum,” I see paintings––ornate, revered paintings; I see rooms full of silent people, squinting their eyes and leaning forward, eventually deciding to lean over to the person they brought with them to whisper some theory they have about the piece; I see the beautiful, exterior walls which enclose the hypothetical place, which give its visitors an imposing first impression.  My experience of viewing art within a museum has always felt somewhat sacred, and what a beautiful experience this has been for me. However, this experience of mine, this particular face of a museum, is one of many.  

I had the chance to escape the Massachusetts winter over the holidays, and Miami was my first destination.  After a few long, sunny days at South Beach, I headed into the city, to pay Wynwood, Miami’s energetic art district, a visit.  

Here’s a little bit about Wynwood.  Tony Goldman, a developer from New York who played a key role in making South Beach what it is today, invested time and money in Wynwood, Miami, an area previously filled with the empty, abandoned warehouses of a forgotten garment district, in the early 2000s, hoping that the area would experience an artistic revival.  He started by opening a restaurant, and soon, galleries and shops popped up near it. However, what set Wynwood apart from other empty-warehouse-districts-turned-trendy was the introduction of several huge street murals, placed in a central courtyard open to the public and appropriately named Wynwood Walls.  Goldman called this area of Wynwood a “museum of the streets.”

Photo by Alex Hull

With over 200 of these street murals, Wynwood has now become the artistic hub of Miami, complete with private galleries and beautifully unexpected street art covering nearly every building and abandoned warehouse. The art district has also become a popular place for locals to gather, as tourists tend to flock to South Beach, especially during the summer months.  

Photo by Alex Hull

What I had missed completely during my previous visits to the Wynwood Walls was the fact that this place really was a museum, even though it functioned completely differently from what I associated with my personal template of a museum.  This museum’s only walls were the canvases themselves; their sole purpose was to provide material for the artists to work upon. Instead of the walls enclosing the art inside of a building, these huge canvases are placed in a way that guides visitors through the courtyard, from one work of art to another.  Thus, the focus is on the art itself. The walls become the artistic medium; they can be thought of as huge canvases that are set up to act as walls, that do so without boxing anything in or pushing anything out. The surrounding atmosphere rules this particular museum. The sunny weather, the groups of people chatting to each other freely, and the colorful notes of the murals together all make for an inviting, cheerful, and most importantly, accessible gathering space for those interested in art.  

Mural by Shepard Fairey, Wynwood Walls. Courtesy FloridaDailyPost.com

This museum model draws a larger and more diverse crowd as well.  Everyone from gallery owners to small children to lifelong Miami residents is welcome to enjoy the murals, to stay as short or as long as they please, and to take photos of all of it.  Wynwood, most importantly, is accessible to all people no matter their backgrounds in art. Both the experts and the newcomers gather here to celebrate street art and the artists who love creating it.  

Sources Cited:

Sandra Schulman, “Shepard Fairey Mural at Wynwood Walls Honors the Power of Men,” Florida Daily Post, June 6, 2017, https://obeygiant.com/wynwood-walls-mural-revisited-x-shepard-fairey/.

Terry Pristin, “A SoHo Visionary Makes an Artsy Bet in Miami,” New York Times, March 30, 2010, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/31/realestate/commercial/31goldman.html.

Wynwood, “Our Story,” accessed December 28, 2019, https://wynwoodmiami.com/learn/our-story/.

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