Robert de los Rios rattles off names from his phone, barely pausing for breath as reveals the artists participating in his next project.
"Ahol, 2 Alas, Axel Void, DFace, Evoca, FL. Mingo, Lebo, Luis Berros, Lister, MadSteez, Pixel Pancho, Santiago Rubino, Tava, Trek 6, Typoe..."
The Wynwood Map creator knows the canvas of this neighborhood, remembers its unpainted past before the words "outdoor museum" were ever used to describe it. Located only blocks away from the world-famous mural destination is Jose de Diego Middle School, where students in this thriving arts district have been without an art department for five years.
"This is Wynwood. It's unacceptable," says de los Rios inside the school. "You see they do what they can, but we're not. So we have to."
Come Art Basel Miami Beach 2014, de los Rios, the Wynwood Arts District Association, and a growing band of creatives will right this wrong in the most fitting way they know how: street art.
De los Rios and WADA's Patrick Walsh are steering this project, Reimagining Arts Wynwood (the RAW Coalition), gathering artists and donors to reach a $500,000 goal that would ultimately give JDD Middle an arts staff. Artists will paint the building at night starting around November 25 until Art Basel, when a fundraising event on December 2 will showcase the work completed and feature live music and a raffle to win art and merchandise. Other artists plan to donate pieces to be sold privately for the cause. De los Rios is too superstitious to reveal who, but a major artist wants to release a print to sell and donate 100 percent of the proceeds to the school -- a potential boost of $50 to $60,000.
Not all participating artists have been confirmed, but de los Rios says the numbers are growing, with local talent and beyond itching to make their mark on the massive, unmarked white building at 3100 NW 5th Ave.
Principal Dr. April Thompson-Williams and science coach Catalina Hidalgo describe the area as uninviting, but de los Rios just sees walls waiting for transformation.
"I see it as heaven right now."
Robert de los Rios, Dr. April M. Thompson-Williams, and Catalina Hidalgo in Jose de Diego's courtyard.
Photo by Shelly Davidov
Formerly Robert E. Lee Middle School, Jose de Diego was erected in 1999 and opened with two art labs, a keyboard lab, a chorus room, a band room, a dance room, and a state-of-the-art auditorium, complete with its own sound booth and box office. Students who attend JDD Middle come from Little Haiti, Wynwood, Allapattah, Overtown, Little Havana, and Riverside.
"We have all of the equipment, we just need the teacher," Thompson-Williams says. She adds that for every new artistic project, something has to be scaled back."...If I had the opportunity, I'd use every aspect of my building as far as the arts, where I can afford."
According to a 2011 report by the National Education Association, Florida ranks 50th in the U.S. in per-capita spending per student, 47th in teacher pay, and 48th in college entrance exam scores. As of 2009, Florida ranked 42nd in state spending on education as percentage of total resources. As a state, Florida spends only 3.1 percent of its resources on education.
Thompson-Williams attributes the lack of arts programming to public schools' class size increases, more state funding going toward math and reading courses, and of course overall budget cuts, which reached $185.7 million in Miami-Dade County in 2011. Thompson-Williams' goal is stability, building an arts program that can sustain future budget issues.
"No one has a goal to raise money for anything else but this," de los Rios says.
Gallery figures like Robert Fontaine, Gregg Sheinbaum, and Anthony Spinello are paying for the lifts so artists can work, and Liquitex is donating the paint.
Despite the lofty goal, de los Rios is optimistic about reaching those numbers. After all, what self-described art community wouldn't want to be part of fostering kids' appreciation of art?
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"You can spend $50,000 on a piece of canvas that you want inside your house, so maybe give us $10,000 so we can help put a fucking art teacher in here for these kids. It's as simple as that....How can you say no to this?"