Miami Area Muralists Rouse A New Reputation For An Industrial City

Sep 26, 2015
Originally published on September 28, 2015 10:34 am

Miami already enjoys a vibrant street art scene, but now a new arts district is emerging. The industrial city of Hialeah is becoming an affordable alternative for local artists, who are changing the area's reputation.

Colorful street art brightens the otherwise drab warehouses, where Cuban and Haitian immigrants labor inside binding books, making furniture and sewing clothes. The murals depict flamingoes, a fruit vendor, a girl celebrating her quinceañera.

One wall has the beautiful face of a Yoruba diety. The artist, who goes by the name Trek6, describes his spray-painted piece as a reflection of his hope for the area's future.

"This is a portrait of an orisha: Yemaya. She's the goddess of the ocean, to promote growth, fertility. And this area, it kinda needs that," he says.

The 40-year-old Puerto Rican artist says he wanted to represent part of his Caribbean culture.

"I want positivity here, I want nurturing here," he says. "And it's not for developers. This is what I want for the community."

Trek6 also has murals up in Miami's Wynwood area, a district created more than a decade ago by art dealers, artists, curators and real estate developers. That area now boasts dozens of galleries, museums, coffee shops and stores.

It's become completely unaffordable for many artists to live and work, says Hialeah City Councilman Paul Hernandez.

"They've been priced out of almost every single place that they've created," he says. "You'll have an area that was dirt cheap when all the artists came in, and all of a sudden you'll have a Gucci store next door and you can't afford it. Last week I saw this area in Wynwood ... it was about $410 a square foot, while here it's $5 a square foot."

The 27-year-old councilman grew up in Hialeah, which was once a thriving industrial corridor.

"This was a place that in the '80s and '90s was booming. I mean, we were probably the pinnacle of the garment industry for the entire state of Florida," he says. "My grandparents — everybody's grandparents was coming straight into these factories to work. With outsourcing, all of that went away."

Warehouses were left empty and Hernandez thought they'd be perfect for artists. Last spring, he began inviting them to work and live here. He promised the area would not get overdeveloped and would remain inexpensive. Hernandez had another goal: to change the city's reputation.

Since the early 1980s, graffiti writers have come to Hialeah to paint trains and warehouses with art illegally. And people like Jenny Molina have long flocked to the many thrift stores here.

But Molina says her hometown gets a bad rap.

"For a long time, it's always been the butt of every joke," she says. "If you see a sign with like a misspelled word, you'll see someone post it on Instagram or on social media and say, 'Oh, only in Hialeah.' You know, it's considered lowbrow, it's considered uneducated. And I can tell you from my own experience that that's not the case. It's a city of hardworking immigrant families."

Molina, a public relations rep for Trek6 and other artists, was tired of the jokes. She shared Hernandez' vision, so together they created this new arts district, what she calls a labor of love.

Last Sunday, they celebrated the new arts district with a block party, complete with music, poetry and food trucks. Molina and Hernandez say that's just the start for this area of Hialeah that's got a new nickname: Leah.

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Miami enjoys a vibrant street art scene, but now a new arts district is emerging - the industrial city of Hialeah. It's becoming an affordable alternative for local creative types. And as NPR's Mandalit Del Barco reports, that's changing the area's reputation.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Colorful street art brightens the otherwise drab warehouses where Cuban and Haitian immigrants labor inside, binding books, making furniture and sewing clothes. The murals depict flamingos, a fruit vendor, a girl celebrating her quinceanera. One wall has the beautiful face of a Yoruba deity.

TREK6: This is a portrait of an orisha, Yemaya, the goddess of the ocean to promote growth, fertility. And this area, it kind of needs that.

DEL BARCO: He goes by the name Trek6 and describes his spray-painted piece - Yemaya in a head wrap surrounded by waves. The 40-year-old Puerto Rican artist says he wanted to represent part of his Caribbean culture.

TREK6: I want positivity here. I want nurturing here, and it's not for the developers. This is what I want for the community.

DEL BARCO: Trek6 also has murals up in Miami's Wynwood area, a district created more than a decade ago by art dealers, artists, curators and real estate developers. That area now boasts dozens of galleries, museums, coffee shops and stores. It's become completely unaffordable for many artists to live and work, says Hialeah City Councilman Paul Hernandez.

PAUL HERNANDEZ: They've been priced out of almost every single place that they've created. So you'll have an area that was dirt cheap when all the artists came in, and all of a sudden you'll have a Gucci store next door and you can't afford it. Last week, I saw this area in Wynwood sold for - it was about $410 a square foot. Well, here it's $5 a square foot.

DEL BARCO: The 27-year-old city councilman grew up in Hialeah, which was once a thriving industrial corridor.

HERNANDEZ: This was a place that in the '80s and '90s was booming. I mean, we were probably the pinnacle of the garment industry for the entire state of Florida. Thousands and thousands of workers were coming in and out of here. My grandparents - everyone's grandparents was coming straight into these factories to work. With outsourcing, all of that went away.

DEL BARCO: Warehouses were left empty and Hernandez thought they'd be perfect for artists. Last spring, he began inviting them to work and live here. He promised that the area would not get overdeveloped and would remain inexpensive. Hernandez had another goal - to change the city's reputation. Since the early 1980s, graffiti writers have come to Hialeah to paint trains and warehouses with art illegally, and people like Jenny Molina have long flocked the many thrift stores here. But Molina says her hometown gets a bad rap.

JENNY MOLINA: For a long time, it's always been the butt of every joke, you know?

DEL BARCO: Well, what'd they say about Hialeah?

MOLINA: Well, if you see a sign with like a misspelled word, you'll see someone post it on Instagram or on social media and say, oh, only in Hialeah. You know, it's considered lowbrow. It's considered uneducated. And I can tell you from my own experience that that's not the case. You know, it's a city that's made up of hard-working immigrant families.

DEL BARCO: Molina, a public relations rep for Trek6 and other artists, was tired of the jokes, and she shared Hernandez's vision. So together, they created this new arts district, what she calls a labor of love. Last Sunday, they celebrated the new arts district with a block party complete with music, poetry and food trucks. Molina and Hernandez say that's just the start for this area of Hialeah that's got a new nickname, Leah. Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News, Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.