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The International Writers Magazine:Miami

Miami Design District
• Eleanor Ross
Exploring the cultural side of a region known for partying

Anyone who says Miami is all brash, trash and cash is thinking about the wrong Miami. Miami Beach, or South Beach is the home of art deco glamour, hen parties and powdery sand beaches. Just across the bridge into downtown Miami heralds standard apartment blocks: local restaurants and dive bars line the streets.

miami design  district

Thrift stores abound, and cultural centres such as Museum of Modern Art and the Miami Central library are geared more towards local residents than tourists. Three miles or so north of downtown sits Miami's design district, a colourful and vibrant neighbourhood packed to the rafters with artist's studios and galleries.

mural Murals are splashed on the walls which depict everything from scenes of slavery, to a young girl putting on ballet shoes, hewn onto the crumbling brick wall. Bansky-esque designs are scrawled on white breeze blocks: slogans such as ‘Art is peace’ are graffittied over potholes.

I have no idea how many galleries there were, but I visited at least 7 independent studios. There must have been about 100 open art studios in the district alone.

Some studios contain the work of local artists, who live and work near to the district, while others showcase artists who are fast emerging onto the international scene. One gallery was committed to the work of an artist who covered rooms with pages of philosophy texts and illuminated the rooms with a golden light. Another had insipid pictures of birds and seascapes which reminded me of my great-grandmothers living room. Most were eye-poppingly exhilarating spaces dedicated to artists who were trying to do something different with art.

One gallery we went into made jewellery from recycled trash.

'You should come back tomorrow night,' said the designer, who was adding a finishing touch to a broach made out of hair pins. 'We've all signed up to the Art Walks. There'll be lots of wine, great company and food. It's a really nice evening'.

miami design Each gallery we went into we met people who were organising their galleries for the art walks. These nights happen once a month and are a chance to showcase emerging talent away from the fanfare of big art festivals such as Miami Basel, an event which occurs annually. Every gallery opens up, plays music, serves free wine, and provides activities and guided walking tours between the studios. It’s a chance to join the dots between remarkably different artistic styles.

I popped into a cafe with enormous, bulbous hanging white snooker- style lights and light oak and chrome panelling. I craved espresso and a sweet fix, and I wanted to sit awhile in the design district on this rainy Wednesday afternoon and watch what made people here tick. I chewed on a coconut and chocolate flapjack. The café was beautiful Scandinavian, but it was filled with stressed looking workers who were queuing up to get their ‘Three O Clock Fix’. Most of the crowd seemed to be covered in paint, and all looked as though they knew each other. Most people seemed to be stressing out about lighting. They could have taken inspiration from this tiny cafe, which, as the windows began to steam up when the grey rainy sky began outside, looked like a Santa's grotto on a Miami winter's afternoon. Maybe they were expecting some gigantic power-cut.

What struck me was that this scene wouldn’t have looked out of place on a gloomy Wednesday afternoon in London. The creative supping coffee here wore the same kind of designer stubble and polished leather brogues, yet rather than wearing turned up jeans or corduroys, they wore hipster length shorts or rolled up shirt sleeves. Despite the rain, the temperature hovered consistently around 30 degrees Celsius. Inhabitants of the design district came in out of the rain to escape the humidity and to soak up the air-conditining, just as we would run into a coffee shop to shelter from the cold wind. The design district is a must-see area in Miami proper. By all means spend some time kicking the surf with your barefeet, but try, if you can, to cross the bridge into Northern Miami and enjoy the cultural infusion.

© Eleanor Ross February 2013

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