During his daily drives past the drab Metrorail tracks, artist Bo Droga saw playful potential. To him, each stoic, gray pylon was a blank canvas waiting to be animated.
“When I moved from Paris to Miami, my first reaction to these concrete hulks was, ‘My God, they’re so hideous,’” Droga said. “I wanted to transform a functional space into a public art space.”
He’s doing it with dominoes. Droga and his team of volunteers have painted 12 of the support pillars near University Station to look like the popular game pieces — white rectangular tiles with varying numbers of black dots.
His “Miami Dominoes” installation is receiving rave reviews. Aside from adding a splash of personality to the dark corridor beneath the elevated train tracks, the parallel rows of giant dominoes are evoking smiles and feelings of nostalgia in the people who walk, run and bike on the M-path. Call it the domino effect.
“People stop, take selfies, share memories or give their interpretation of what we’ve created,” Droga said. “Mostly they find it to be pure fun.”
The finished project will include a total of 46 pylons, varying in height from 14 to 18 feet and located between U.S. 1 and Ponce de Leon Boulevard from Stanford Drive at the entrance to the University of Miami south to South Alhambra Circle.
Droga grew up in Australia’s remote Perisher Valley with six siblings and no TV.
“As kids, we had to entertain ourselves continuously,” he said. “We played dominoes. It could get quite competitive.”
He envisions a game-playing area with outdoor tables for dominoes, chess and cards when the Underline linear park is completed. Maybe it will grow into a satellite of Little Havana’s Domino Park, where the hard-core players congregate.
“Cubans love their dominoes,” Droga said. “It’s a game that crosses all cultures, all age groups.”
Droga originally planned the domino installation for Wadonga Lake in Australia, where a row of old bridge supports stretches across the water. Then he proposed to install it under Melbourne’s West Gate bridge. But the permitting process delayed both projects and Droga moved to Fiji, then London, then France, then Coral Gables.
“When I got to Coral Gables and saw the pylons that had not been utilized in any way, I said, ‘Wow, I have to do it here, finally, it’s perfect,’” he said.
Droga’s gallery shows and installations have been held in a dozen countries. He’s known for his site-specific artwork. The dominoes project is part of his Concrete Landscapes series for urban spaces.
Droga and nine volunteers — a group of art-loving moms who climb ladders, position aluminum stencils and help Droga with the spray paint — want to finish before rainy season sets in. Check their progress on Instagram at bo.droga.art.
After winning an Ellies award and $2,500 grant from ArtCenter/South Florida (now Oolite Arts) and the Miami Foundation, plus donations from Rust-Oleum, Brightway Insurance and MWL Engineering, Droga was able to fast-track the project with help from Irene Hegedus and Carol Wilson at Miami-Dade County’s transportation and public works department, who got the pylons cleaned. He’s doing the work for free.
“The response from the public has been terrific,” said Droga. Even drivers toot their horns and wave. “This shows how even a simple idea can transform an environment. I hope it will encourage other artists to do the same.”