Sunny Miami's art scene rising

View of Shepard Fairey's painting of Aung San Su Kyi (far left) at the Wynwood Walls, painted in...

View of Shepard Fairey's painting of Aung San Su Kyi (far left) at the Wynwood Walls, painted in the artist's trademark red, black and gold. (Marianne Dowling/QMI Agency)

MARIANNE DOWLING, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:09 PM ET

As long as there is heat in the forecast and music blaring from South Beach nightclubs until dawn, Canadians will arrive in Florida to let loose in Miami.

But, while the city’s shopping, clubbing, dining and beach scenes have been a big part of its identity for decades, Miami is also rapidly becoming a centre for art, with galleries, museums and public spaces popping up almost as quickly as bikini boutiques.

The beating heart of Miami’s art awakening can be found in the Wynwood Arts District – a section of the city that just a decade ago was filled with abandoned garment warehouses. The neighbourhood has since transformed into an edgy artist haven and open-air museum, with colourful, provocative and whimsical murals by local and international graffiti artists adorning walls throughout several city blocks.

Some of the most beautiful walls are found outside Wynwood Kitchen & Bar restaurant, which showcases 15 murals on just two acres of property. Order some food and a drink and sit outside under the shade surrounded by the art of Kenny Scharf (designer of albums for the B-52’s) and Shepard Fairey (creator of Obama’s iconic Hope poster).

The owners hope to add more walls for painting to the property soon and Fairey plans to return in December to paint a brand new design over what is currently his South Asian-themed wall, which features a beautiful design of Burmese politician Aung San Su Kyi in Fairey’s trademark red, black and gold. Catch it before it comes down.

With over 50 art galleries in the Wynwood neighbourhood, it’s hard to pick a standout, but The Bakehouse Art Complex is definitely worth exploring. The Bakehouse serves as a contemporary art gallery, studio, classroom and all-around creativity machine for artists in the community.

Like most galleries, The Bakehouse features exhibit space and corridors full of paintings, but, unlike most galleries, the artists are working on the premises and visitors are encouraged to interact with them. Have questions about that large art installation? Want to know what that artist is making out of clay? As long as the studio door is open, go in and ask.

Another incentive? Admission is free.

For those who want to see the murals and cover a lot of ground really fast, Vespa tours are available to anyone with a valid driver’s license. Roam There Vespa street art tours,  which originate in Miami Beach, are led by knowledgeable local artists who take visitors to the most talked-about murals and give background information on the artists who created them. Besides the street art tour, the company also has gallery and architectural tours of Little Haiti and South Beach.

As impressive as the Wynwood Arts District is, it’s far from the only Miami–area neighbourhood that has seen a renaissance recently.

Across Biscayne Bay, Miami Beach is quickly adding an air of sophistication to its party mecca reputation with the New World Center, home of the New World Symphony.

The symphony is comprised of young, recent graduates from music programs all over the world (including six from Canadian universities) and The New World Center serves as their school and concert hall.

The 9,349 square meter complex, designed by Frank Gehry, includes classrooms, rehearsal spaces, technical suites and a state-of-the-art performance hall in a space that was just a parking lot back in 2008.

But going to the symphony here isn’t a stodgy affair (it’s still South Beach) and the atmosphere in the performance hall is modern and relaxed, with ocean wave patterns projected onto screens above the performance space and aquatic designs stitched onto every one of the 756 seats.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to listen to classical music in this part of town either. To keep the tunes accessible to tourists and locals, The New World Center offers half-hour mini concerts for $2.50, starting again in the New Year.

But for the most inexpensive and uniquely Miami musical experience, take a lawn chair and some snacks and listen to the symphony while sitting outside under the stars at the Miami Beach Soundscape.

The public space just northwest of the New World Center faces a 650 square meter projection wall where revellers can watch what is going on inside the performance hall and hear the music in surround sound for free.

Built for $13 million in 2011, the Soundscape is a great example of how Miami is taking advantage of its tropical surroundings and year-round warm weather to give locals and tourists a unique cultural experience that is still casual enough for blue jeans.

The next time you’re out in Miami, pry yourself away from the golf course or the beach and take part in the fantastic new art scene dawning in the Sunshine state.

 For more information on Miami, visit the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau website.


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