As many journalists, bloggers and fiercely loyal locals like to report, Miami is in the midst of a cultural renaissance. Of course, in any renaissance, art is a key ingredient, and artists need somewhere to live.
But with the prices in Wynwood out of reach and rents rising rapidly in downtown, Miami's evolution has some serious obstacles to overcome if it wants to continue its upward climb.
Enter the Leah Arts District, the new live and work space was designed specifically for artists in a seemingly unlikely place: Hialeah.
The district was the brainchild of Councilman Paul Hernandez. At 27, he's the youngest elected official in the county. In 2013, Hernandez decided to introduce an ordinance that would create an Artist Live/Work Overlay District in Hialeah, helping to rebrand the beleaguered city and offer a new neighborhood for Miami's often-displaced artists.
The idea was unanimously approved by the city council and mayor in December of 2013, and Hernandez has been actively promoting the area as a creative corridor ever since. The region is now officially known as the Leah Arts District, and runs from East Ninth Street to East 17th Street as its southern and northern boundaries, and East Tenth Avenue to the railroad tracks as its eastern and western boundaries.
With the pro bono help of local PR guru JennyLee Molina (who originally hails from Hialeah and has long since shared a similar vision for its future), Hernandez planned the area's first community block party last month. The heavily attended launch featured food trucks; drinks; murals by Atomik, Abstrk and other popular artists; live music and more. The idea was to introduce Miamians to the new arts area, and prove how hip Hialeah can be.
By all accounts, it was successful, and the next step is actually filling the area with artists.
"My idea was always to set the conditions and allow the artists and art community to organically make it their own," explains Hernandez. "Aside from the central location and very affordable price per square footage that the area offers, I am currently working on having an architect draw up essential plans for living quarters such as bathrooms so that we can provide a blueprint for artists looking to come in to the area while save them from incurring a costly expense."
Just 13 minutes from Wynwood, the area has low prices, proximity and amenable city officials on its side. (Plus, plenty of amazing thrift stores nearby.) But how will artists actually be integrated into the community?
"One of the coolest things I saw when we were getting ready for the #HialeahNow event was the outpouring of support from the community," Hernandez says. "Neighbors of all ages were coming out at all hours of the night and bringing food and coffee to the artists. People were so excited to see this in Hialeah. Some spoke to me about how they had wanted to enjoy something like this in Hialeah their entire lives. These are prime examples of how the community instantly integrated itself to the artists."
Hernandez also has plans for future collaborations with the artists, including potentially hosting community events, workshops, conversations and more.
"Visiting our local schools such as Hialeah High's Conservatory of the Arts and providing the students with their unique perspectives and experiences can also be very important. There are countless benefits from bringing art and community together. I know that these ideas are really just the peak of the iceberg."
Hernandez believes that the future of the area is promising, though that won't be seen until the newly-dubbed arts district has a couple of actual artists.
He promises that the whole endeavor is about creating community—not cashing in. And Miami certainly needs more of the former, and less of the latter.
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