Wynwood Yard adds more toMiami than food and drink

Mimi Chacin, of The Skills Culinary & Kitchen, teaches kids to cook dumplings at The Wynwood Yard in 2016.
Mimi Chacin, of The Skills Culinary & Kitchen, teaches kids to cook dumplings at The Wynwood Yard in 2016. For the Miami Herald

In the fall of 2015, The Wynwood Yard opened its doors to the city, taking an empty and rocky lot and transforming it into a home for the masses. A completely unique concept to Miami, The Wynwood Yard was developed around the “incubator-style” model where a multitude of culinary concepts could function side-by-side, developing their menus and flavors while perfecting their internal processes simultaneously.

Founder Della Heiman recruited local entities like Little River Cooperative to establish a community garden, Prism Creative Group for strategic monthly entertainment programming, and Miami food & beverage purveyor, Ken Lyon, The Wynwood Yard quickly became a gathering place for both locals and tourists — everyone is welcome, and all cultures can be experienced in the heart of Miami’s burgeoning creative neighborhood.

For many years, Miami was seen as a destination where immediate satisfaction and the pursuit of some elusive “image” reigned. VIP lists and velvet ropes cordoned off spots that catered to tourists and left locals longing for a sense of place, making them feel unwelcome in their own city.

Most of Miami’s vibrant culture lived in its geographical extremes: nightclubs on the beach, music venues scattered throughout the mainland, and a collection of historical landmarks that are strewn across the city with relatively little connection to the residents that call the city home year after year.

With places like The Wynwood Yard successfully building a space for community connection, the city’s cultural landscape is drastically shifting — and for the better. When unused or unconventional spaces like the original empty lot are activated, locals are told that they, too, can be enriched by and participate in the creation of culture, inviting residents from all walks of life in our community to rub shoulders and take a seat at the table. It’s a rare opportunity in this city. The results of transforming otherwise overlooked space into a watering hole for the arts, food, and drink were immediate.

When it comes to The Wynwood Yard and Heiman’s efforts, it isn’t only the actual space that brings people together. It’s her visionary approach to building a community internally that has helped lead the charge for connection for Miami. Looking to ensure a steady stream of supporters for the project, Heiman worked with local cultural development agency, Prism Creative Group, to build out a calendar of events as vibrant as the space itself.

At The Wynwood Yard, Prism played a key role in bringing weekly concert series, craft fairs, and singer-songwriter showcases to the stage. We were also given the opportunity to foster community partnerships with Miami’s top cultural institutions to make all levels of culture accessible to the community. World-class flamenco drew nearly 2,000 attendees for The Adrienne Arsht Center’s Flamenco Festival, and GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY-nominated artists magnified The Yard’s magic thanks to Sony Music Latin. Each of these events and showcases were free and open to the public.

What’s most important to note here is not The Wynwood Yard’s accolades or positive effects on the community, but rather that the cultural pressure cannot sit upon the shoulders of a few. These moments for authentic connection must exist in bulk, everywhere across Miami, for it to eventually evolve into the world-class city we know it can actually become — collectively elevating our lives as it grows.

In order to ensure that the current momentum continues in a positive direction that benefits all members of the community, projects such as The Wynwood Yard’s potential expansion to North Miami Beach require the help and support of local governments, landlords and operators, and as many community members as possible. More important, it requires the thoughtful process of working with these same residents, listening to their desires, and being made aware of their needs in order to ensure that future projects and developments benefit everyone.

We need to work together and connect across silos, as The Wynwood Yard has proven to do, to create the Miami we all want to be proud to say we live in.

Pola Bunster is a co-founder of Prism Creative Group.