You know you're in Wynwood when you the walls start to look different. They're no longer just whitewashed concrete, but instead are transformed into tough canvases and covered with color. The city's artistic inhabitants -- some nameless and others unknown -- have transformed the neighborhood into an open air gallery of street art.
But as you walk down the streets, Instagramming your way through Wynwood's murals, who will you credit for your extra dose of artful happiness? You won't be able to name anyone, because you don't know who painted the backdrop for your new profile picture.
Robert William de los Rios was like you once, passing by the walls and taking pictures, but he had an itching desire to find out who painted what and keep a record of that information. With a goal of creating the world's largest street art database, WynwoodMap.com was born.
"To be honest with you, this started as a completely selfish venture," says de los Rios. He goes on to explain how in ten, even 15 years from now, he wants to be able to take his children to walk the streets of Wynwood and point out artistic murals and say, "Hey, that's an Ahol mural," or "There's a Joey Diez one up ahead." And despite murals being replaced by new ones all the time, he imagined a virtual archive to go back and look at photos of artists' work through time.
For de los Rios, WynwoodMap.com is more than just an archival project; it's a way to show the world a snippet of Miami's thriving art scene. "I don't want Miami to just have artists from all over the world come down here in December and only have people pay attention at that time," he says. "Wynwood is 365 days out of the year, and I want people to know that."
Visiting Wynwood almost everyday for over two years, de los Rios' takes pictures of the walls, then goes back home and works with his business partner and site designer, Christopher Montano, to catalogue everything. He points out that a lot of the artists have a distinct style, and once you identify one painting by a particular artist, it's easy to spot another. If he doesn't know who painted something, he'll post it online and ask. Oftentimes he has someone point him in the right direction and he reaches out to the artist, but most of the time, the artists him/herself contacts de los Rios. "It's actually a lot easier to get in contact with these people than I thought," he says.
"Their drive really is to just show us what it is that they have to offer, and I can't believe how humble the majority of these artists are," says de los Rios.
De los Rios' photograph collection is as vast as the stars - he says he hasn't even gone through about 30-40% of his photos. "I'm not even close to finishing," he says.
When you first log onto the WynwoodMap.com site, you'll see a map of the area and an explosion of blue marker dots showing you where the identified murals are. Each of those dots, says de los Rios, represents a mural that is currently up. "If the picture is not on display, then I don't have it marked on the map."
The dots might seem overwhelming or confusing, but de los Rios likes it that way: "I wanted people to be impressed by that."
The website also has an "Artists" tab where you can click a particular artist and the map will only show the locations of that person's artwork. All the other blue dots disappear and your Wynwood adventure has just gotten more organized.
We asked de los Rios about the possibility of a mobile app coming out soon for the website, but he assured us that Montano designed it to work sort of like an app already. If you pull up the site on your mobile devices, it works seamlessly, he says: "It's just as good as an app, just it's not an app."
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Wynwood's a vast and ever-evolving starting point, but when de los Rios first said he wanted to create "one of the world's largest street art databases," he literally meant worldwide. "This is going to start as Wynwood, and as soon as Art Basel is done, this is going worldwide," he says. He compares the 1960s art pop movement to what's happening today with graffiti art, and for him, it's a beautiful thing. "This is art, this is artistic expression, [and] I want this to last, that's what I want to accomplish."
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