As the sun began to set on a recent afternoon, Lenny Rodríguez shook a can of spray paint before drawing some green curves on an exterior wall of the Goodwill store on Calle Ocho. By his side, his girlfriend María “Delvs” Balseiro used a paintbrush to outlined a pink female body.
Their paintings, in individual spaces measuring 4 to 5 feet on a side, are their contribution to The Good Wall project, a collection of murals outside the building at 982 SW Eighth St. In the last two years, those walls have been divided into hundreds of squares where painters like Rodríguez and Balseiro come each week to leave their imprint.
The more than 100 murals have brought a new life to Little Havana and have even inspired the owners of some nearby buildings to also transform their walls with colorful images. But the changes are setting off alarms for some residents, business owners and even the district city commissioner, who don’t want the neighborhood to become another Wynwood.
Balseiro and Rodríguez, both born in Miami, find a special meaning in painting in Little Havana. They consider the neighborhood a forum for public art.
“More than in any other Miami neighborhood, here people walk on sidewalks, move around on their bicycles and are in direct contact with their surroundings,” said Rodríguez, a tattoo artist who lives nearby. “This is why street art is so important in this area.”
The project organizers hope the building becomes a landmark in Little Havana. They recently added about 300 squares for new paintings on the eastern side of the building and are calling for more artists to be part of the project. On Nov. 22, they will host a block party to promote the project.
“We want to give them the opportunity to exhibit their art at a public place,” said Diana “DidiRok” Contreras, the muralist who coordinates the project. “But we emphasize that the murals should reflect the culture and the character of the area.”
It was Contreras who approached building’s owners, Bill Fuller and Martín Pinilla, and offered to coordinate and curate the project.
“We think it’s a positive initiative for the neighborhood,” said Fuller, a real-estate developer. “It’s also a continuation of the artistic atmosphere that has developed in Little Havana.”
It’s not just local artists who have left their mark on the walls of the Goodwill building. Alongside the building’s main entrance is a piece by world-renown street artist Blek Le Rat, considered the father of the stencil graffiti. Also during Art Basel last year, the enigmatic French artist known as Invader left one of his trademark images inspired by the 1979 arcade video game, Space Invaders.
“It’s a privilege to be able to share a space with such well-known artists,” Balseiro said. “But, honestly, it is everyone’s contribution that makes this project so special.”
But some residents fear the spread of the project farther into the neighborhood.
Miami City Commissioner Frank Carollo has heard some of these complaints. Though he supports public art, he thinks there should be some regulation.
“The neighbors and business owners have expressed their concern about this trend,” he said. “It’s not that Wynwood is ugly, but Little Havana has its own character and they tell me that they don’t want the murals to be so overwhelming that they would take over the rest of the area.”
The commissioner acknowledged that controlling public art is difficult, and said that the City Commission wants to move cautiously on this issue.
“We could probably impose a resolution, but we don’t want to do that,” Carollo said. “We want the rules to be fair, and there lies the difficulty. How would we decide allowing some murals and not others?”
Fuller said The Good Wall differs from Wynwood in its very concept.
“Wynwood is a neighborhood full of murals,” he said. “We are confining each artist to a limited space in order to create a collective mural.”
Contreras said that she and the other organizers factored in the neighborhood’s surroundings when creating the rules for artists who wish to participate. The murals must be family friendly, can’t contain advertisements and must be related to Goodwill’s mission of enhancing the dignity and quality of life of the people.
One of the most popular images on The Good Wall is Rufino the Rooster, by artist Luis Berros.
He grew up nearby, playing with his friends in that neighborhood as a child. He feels that participating in The Good Wall is a way of giving back to his own community.
“When I was told about the project, I accepted immediately. How can you say no to painting on Calle Ocho?” Berros said. “It makes me proud to know that my work can be appreciated on the streets that saw me grow up.”
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