Art Basel Miami Beach

This Year, Some of Art Basel's Best Parties Are Leaving Wynwood

That Wynwood has evolved well beyond the bank account of your average Miamian is, at this point, as much a secret in this city as Fidel's heart rate. Chances are, you can't even afford a pothole in the trendy art district, where even the most unattractive of lots are earning three commas with ease. Decades ago, things were different — very different. But, a few art galleries, a river of paint, and the unfolding of many thick wallets later, Wynwood is now Wynwood, which is to say, just about unrecognizable to its original tenants.

"The prices of renting a venue are ridiculous."

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It's not breaking news. The invasion of Wynwood by massive developers has been a process some 15-years in the making. And this, of course, is not a uniquely Miami phenomena. It's not even a uniquely American phenomena. Shoot, it's not even a uniquely financial phenomena.

It's actually the plot of Mean Girls: Cady Heron is unpopular. Cady Heron gets new clothes and better make up. Cady Heron becomes popular. Cady Heron slowly pushes away her old, equally unpopular friends. We miss the old Cady Heron. Bring back the old Cady Heron.

Luckily, in the movie, she realizes the error of her ways, backtracks, and finds a way to return to her old friendships while responsibly nurturing new ones.

But in real life, rapidly gentrifying Miami neighborhoods such as Wynwood haven’t figured out that third act. How can they grow without losing their soul and alienating and pushing out all the events and people that made them unique in the first place?

It's a tricky question. And during this year’s edition of Art Basel, Wynwood is having its own Mean Girls moment. Case in point: this week, a handful of Basel’s most anticipated, hyped, and fashionable parties — shindigs that have traditionally been housed in Wynwood’s mural-scrawled streets — have moved north to Little Haiti and Little River.

“Instead of going into this whole back-and-forth pissing match with a bunch of humongous companies from New York and L.A., we just were like, ‘You know what? Fuck it,’” says David Sinopoli, cofounder of Miami’s III Points festival. 
This year, Sinopoli and his team have moved their Art Basel Concert Series to the relatively new collection of Little Haiti warehouses called Magic City Studios. Last year, III Points hosted its Basel concerts, which included sets from Jamie xx, A$AP Rocky, and others, at Wynwood’s Mana — a venue III Points has used since 2013.

“We’re pretty confident in our programming skills, and we’re pretty confident that, when Mana Wynwood was desolate, we were able to bring people there,” he says.

This year, III Points will host concerts featuring James Blake, Young Thug, Todd Terje, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Mount Kimbie, and others at Magic City Studios, and they’re not alone. Major promoters and talent bookers PL0T and Poplife have teamed up to host Resident Advisor’s first Basel show at Magic City Studios, and PL0T and III Points are bringing back the annual Life and Death party to Little River Studios.

Rebeca Lange, who founded PL0T in 2007, agrees this year’s northern migration is in direct response to the rising rent and expanding red tape of Wynwood.

“The prices of renting a venue are ridiculous,” she says. “There’s a lot of political moves you have to do to not get different people upset.”

When Lange and others saw the success of Get Lost Miami, a III Points-assisted party that took place at Little River Studios during Miami Music Week 2016, it all felt fresh and inviting.

“It’s kind of like going back to basics,” Lange says. The large windows, raw aesthetic, warehouse vibes — it all brought her back to the raves of a more authentic time.

This year will be a test run for Magic City Studios, which could be planting seeds for more consistent, big-name bookings — perhaps finally plugging the hole left by Grand Central's shuttering (itself a victim of encroaching development). The venue is owned by developer Tony Cho and investor Robert Zangrillo, state records show. They declined an interview for this story, but the move makes sense for Cho, who has spearheaded projects in mainland areas such as Wynwood, Little Haiti, and the Upper Eastside. “What I enjoy most is pioneering new neighborhoods and helping shape them,” he told New Times in a 2014 profile.

Little Haiti’s gain could be Wynwood’s loss in buzzy music shows — but, just like in Wynwood, the migration brings its own set of serious challenges to the area. 
Longtime residents, naturally, are looking at the trend with trepidation, wary that another blue-collar, immigrant-heavy chunk of Miami will fall prey to greedy hands.

Umi Selah, cofounder of the Florida-based activist group Dream Defenders, and Aja Monet, a Brooklyn-born poet, operate Smoke Signals Studio, a community-based recording studio and artistic collective run out of their home in Little Haiti. For the past year, Monet and Selah have built a strong network in Little Haiti, an area that has only recently come under the magnifying glass of powerful entities like Art Basel.

“One trademark of Art Basel is neighborhood conquest,” Selah and Monet said in a statement. “Searching for cheap prices and the fetish of ‘uncharted waters’ in the hood; what started as a Miami Beach art festival for the ultrarich has now devoured Wynwood and has its sights on Little Haiti.”

That’s not to say Selah and Monet are asking Basel-goers to stay away. Instead, they’re urging both locals and out-of towners to make an effort to support Little Haiti on a local level by visiting and supporting longtime business such as Chef Creole, Clive’s Cafe, and B&M Market. "Folks looking for an authentic Miami experience should check out the incredible events put on by Smoke Signals Studio, the Prizm Art Fair, the Little Haiti Cultural Center, Opa Locka Community Development Corporation, MUCE, Kroma in Coconut Grove, Art of Black, [and] Art Central Miami," they suggest.

“Art Basel didn't discover Little Haiti. Little Haiti is an amazing neighborhood with strong people and a rich culture that flows far deeper than Art Basel can ever showcase. It deserves your time, your money, and your support year-round."

These aren’t issues promoters are blind to either. Sinopoli says III Points is making an effort to staff its events with locals from the community. Lange says PL0T organized a Little Haiti Thanksgiving food drive last week.

“We’ve been trying to be ahead of the real community issues that come into play when a developer is trying to pop up a cool area, and [Magic City Studios’ owners] seem to be very much aligned with that,” Sinopoli says.

Of course, this year’s migration doesn’t mean Wynwood is dead. Sinopoli and Lange say they’d happily return under the right circumstances. And venues such as Gramps, the Electric Pickle, and the Wynwood Yard continue to prove themselves with smart local and international bookings. The area certainly won’t be a ghost town this Basel.

Claude VonStroke’s Dirtybird BBQ will stop by, and Red Bull will host a very ambitious 12-hour party at Coyo Taco. But those are entities with considerably deeper pockets than the event producers who call Miami home year-round. For them, Wynwood’s needle is teetering on a point of no return.

“I was pretty wide-eyed and bushy-tailed to Wynwood in 2011 and 2012,” Sinopoli says. “I found it was a symbol of Miami’s counterculture. It inspired me in a lot of ways to start III Points... Then, over the next two to three years... my events started being pawns used in this piece. I started feeling very used, and I felt like our organization and a lot of the artists that are friends of mine were starting to feel very gross towards the process of what was going on there. As everyone has seen it play out, the writing was on the wall, literally and figuratively.”

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Ryan Pfeffer is a contributor and former Miami New Times music editor. After earning a BS from Florida State University, Ryan joined the New Times staff in November 2013 as a web editor.
Contact: Ryan Pfeffer