I’ve always been amazed with the quantity of art fairs in Miami during the first week of December. Last year was my first visit with our Nueva Luz booth at Photo Miami, one of the 22 art fairs that take place. And that’s probably not counting the hotels and shipping containers that are rented out by artists and organizations. It’s as if the town is taken over by art lovers from all over the world.
But where does the local community fit in? With much talk from government about how arts and culture events bring in tourism dollars, I can’t help wondering how the community actually benefits.
Artist Noelle Théard helped shed some light on this, as she recently worked with the Miami Workers Center group and Miami En Acción (MIA), a Wynwood resident’s group that has fought gentrification and encouraged community activism in its Latino neighborhood.
The outcome was la Galeria del Barrio, proudly displaying the results of a series of photography workshops conducted by Théard with residents of the mui latino Wynwood neighborhood. The gallery itself was made from a converted bread truck and parked in the heart of Wynwood arts district, across the street from Photo Miami – giving Wynwood residents an opportunity to respond to the arts scene flourishing in their own backyard.
Guerrilla intervention at its best.
I asked Théard, who lives in North Miami, how she became involved:
I do a lot of shooting in these neighborhoods, so it is important to me to find ways for the community to benefit. I have also been heavily inspired by the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s that really pushed for art to be by and for the people. I believe that the perspectives and creativity of ‘real’ people is often worth a whole lot more than the art of the traditional establishment. I was also motivated by the fact that Art Basel and other fairs tend to attract a certain demographic–one which loves local ‘character’ but has complete disregard for the locals themselves. Wynwood was a neighborhood long before it became an arts district, and with the markets going how they are, it will be around a lot longer than many of these art fairs.
We used Holga cameras and medium format color film. I use the same cameras often in my own work and I’ve found that they are are easy to use and the results are interesting and well suited for ‘vernacular’ photography. I didn’t teach them too much, just told them to fill the frame, look at the four corners of the viewfinder and make sure every element in the picture contributed to the shot. And I was constantly telling them to get closer! I also encouraged them to photograph whatever they thought best represented Wynwood. Some chose pretty alleyways, others chose dump trucks, and that’s the beauty of it. Many took wonderful and disarming portraits.
My youngest photographer was 23 and the oldest was 78, with most of them being in their 50s, so they were no strangers to film cameras. They always remembered to wind the film! All but two were native English speakers, so i did the workshops in Spanish. Most were from Puerto Rico, but we had a few from Guatemala and one from Costa Rica. All had been living in Wynwood for many years.
In speaking about democratizing the action of making art, Théard readily points out that cameras are usually in the hands of the ‘haves,’ or those that can afford to indulge their creative impulses.
I believe the voice and vision of the community has just as much to offer to the arts dialogue than much of the work on the walls at the art fairs. Residents are particularly upset about Roberto Clemente Park, which is an important community space whose renovation is constantly being put on the back burner. These art fairs come and charge thousands of dollars for a both and pay massive amounts of fees, and to accommodate them, the city plants thousand dollar palm trees on once run-down avenues. But somehow there is no money to rebuild the community center or the part in Wynwood, it’s just not right.
Case in point, the Miami Herald interviews one of Théard’s workshop participants, Olga Ramos, who has lived a stone throw away from the art scene but had never been to a gallery until recently. Residents want to show that Wynwood is more than a backdrop for collectors and galleries – it is their home.
The photos you see here were taken by the participating photographers, all of whom chose to take collective credit for the work: Andres Gonzales, Martha Xon, Teo Martinez, James Burrows , Olga Ramos, Wanda Beniquez, Norma Magarin, Wilfredo Mendoza, Clementina Mercado, Nilda Garcia, Gloria Adkins, Carlos Valdiviezo.