Beneath the scar tissue of the giant gash through the heart of Miami known as Interstate 95 are a series of dark and dreary underpasses.
These intimidating, wasted spaces, suitable only for trolls, could connect neighborhoods instead of dividing them if only they were enlivened with color and light.
Marcelo Ertorteguy and Sara Valente see four underpasses at Northwest 20th, 29th, 32nd and 35th streets as giant canvases for outdoor art, perfectly suited for a transformation from gun-metal gray walls into murals and abstract paintings.
“Massive infrastructure tends to build barriers between people,” Valente said. “We want to make it an experience for pedestrians and drivers when they pass through the space. Right now it’s a scary tunnel to be avoided.”
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Ertorteguy and Valente, architecture professors at FIU and founders of a design studio called Stereotank, were urban art innovators for 10 years in New York City, where they created installations such as spinning “Compass Benches” on medians in lower Manhattan; a fanciful “Cyclo-Phone” musical instrument activated by riding a stationary bike in Astor Place and an interactive drumming “Heartbeat” sculpture in Times Square.
They hope “Art-95” will be the first of many Miami projects, a creative way to connect Wynwood and Allapattah. Just look what the Wynwood Walls did for the old warehouse district.
“It’s the right time and place to boost a sense of place in these neighborhoods where lots of changes are happening,” Ertorteguy said. “We want to contribute to the identity of communities by incorporating residents’ ideas and enlisting their help to make it something they own and are proud of.”
The “Art-95” proposal is one of three that seek to bring life to underpasses through the Miami Foundation’s Public Space Challenge, which awards grants to citizens with ideas for utilizing or beautifying the city’s neglected public spaces.
Natalia Martinez-Kalinina’s “Lighting the Way” proposal would install a colorful LED lighting scheme at Northwest 20th Street to make it more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly and safer at night.
She is general manager of the Cambridge Innovation Center Miami, 1951 NW 7th Ave., the main tenant in the building at that intersection.
“We’re looking at gaps in our immediate neighborhood,” she said. “We want to help engage and connect the health and hospital district, Overtown, Allapattah and the innovation corridor in Wynwood and Brickell. These worlds are in close proximity but very disparate. The underpass is a tangible way to connect them, but it’s a dingy, untapped space. Light is energizing and inviting.”
Martinez-Kalinina intends to get residents, students and employees of startup companies in the area involved in the design, installation and accompanying cleanup of the site, which will be followed by a celebratory block party. She also wants to place “Walk Your City” signs with distance and direction markers to encourage foot and bicycle traffic.
“For example, jump on a Citi Bike in Wynwood and grab lunch at Smart Bites restaurant near our corner,” she said.
About six blocks south, across the street from the Overtown Youth Center, the idea of the “Overtown ArtScape” proposal is to paint the pillars and cement embankment below the I-395 overpass at Northwest 14th Street.
“It’s drab and discolored,” said Djenaba Gregory-Faal, development associate at the youth center. She also wants to refurbish the fencing and adorn it with motivational words and phrases. Neighborhood kids would collaborate with local artist Alex Mijares, who made a mural inside the center’s gym.
“Make it a vibrant corner,” said Gregory-Faal, who is also planning to host pop-up youth art galleries under the highway. “Impoverished spaces make it hard for individuals to believe they can have an impact on their community. We want students to feel invested in the value of their community.”
Detroit’s Dequindre Cut serves as one model. The former railroad line has been converted into a greenway with colorful murals and graffiti painted on the bridge abutments along the trail.
Ertorteguy, who once created a giant interactive electric guitar inside a cargo container, considers underpass art a pilot project.
“It’s a long highway,” he said. “There are hundreds of possibilities.”