Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

Art fuels Opa-locka’s transformation

Artist Brianna Paschal works on a painting on stage at the Opa-locka Community Developement Corporation Art’s street festival on Nov. 15 at Ali Baba Ave., in Opa-locka.
Artist Brianna Paschal works on a painting on stage at the Opa-locka Community Developement Corporation Art’s street festival on Nov. 15 at Ali Baba Ave., in Opa-locka. Miami Herald Staff

Thirty years ago, Opa-locka was a different city.

The 4.5 square mile city was home to the Triangle, a barricaded neighborhood where police was a common sight, and which propelled Opa-locka’s reputation as dangerous and chaotic.

But today, Opa-locka is undergoing a transformation fueled by the Opa-locka Community Development Corporation, which has focused on providing affordable housing for the North Dade community for more than 30 years. In addition to OLCDC’s urban development initiatives, the organization is now turning to art to foster Opa-locka’s shift from problematic to promising.

For the third year, the OLCDC is hosting its Art of Transformation Series, founded in part by a grant from the Knight Foundation. The event, which kicked off on Nov. 12, celebrates the city’s planned revitalization with art exhibitions, artistic performances and plenty of art. The series runs through Dec. 14.

“We’re trying to change the conversation,” said Willie Logan, Ph.D., president of OLCDC, who believes his native city has the potential to change its reputation by fostering art and attracting artists and art buyers.

Logan has seen what art can do to improve communities, especially in Wynwood, where the neighborhood’s sponsoring of art has put it on the map for art lovers and buyers. But his plan is not to replicate Wynwood.

“Much of what happened in Wynwood had very little to do with the people that had been there three or four decades,” he said, adding that many of the residents were forced to move out. “We would like to do something sustainable that provides opportunities for the residents as well as the artists.”

The Art of Transformation’s art exhibition, In Plain Sight, is a part of that initiative. On display now at The ARC, on 675 Ali Baba Avenue, and featuring artists Nari Ward, Karyn Olivier, Renee Cox, and Yashua Klos, the organizers want local residents to get used to seeing art galleries in their neighborhood.

Logan said the OLCDC wants to take advantage of upcoming Art Basel, a time when powerful art buyers flock to South Florida. Some them land their private jets at Opa-locka’s airport. Logan wants them to stick around, instead of just passing through the city on their way to Miami Beach.

“With art comes money, and lots of it,” said Logan, who envisions Opa-locka’s transformation attracting investors, companies, and small businesses in the future, and hopefully retaining some of those wealthy art buyers within Opa-locka’s galleries.

Suzan McDowell, CEO of Circle of One Marketing, has been planning Art of Transformation since its start three years ago. She has seen it go from a one-night event the first year, to this year’s monthlong celebration.

“It’s going to become a huge staple in south Florida,” she said. “It’s going to change lives and make Opa-locka a beautiful place.”

McDowell said when she started working with OLCDC, she was impressed with their master plan, a document detailing how Opa-locka’s transformation can occur through community gardens, street landscaping, public art and murals, and more.

McDowell believes the OLCDC’s efforts will increase property value, something that city officials constantly mention among their plans for the city. In fact, one part of the plan aims to set up live-work studios for aspiring artists — possibly including some of those who were displaced due to the gentrification of Wynwood.

“I would say buy real estate in Opa-locka right now,” she said.

IF YOU GO

What: The Art of Transformation Series

Where: Most events take place in Opa-locka, others in city of Miami.

When: Through Dec. 14.

Cost: All events are free and open to the public.

More information: For a complete list of programming, go to www.opalockaart.com or call (305) 687-3545.

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