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In profile: The artists who transform the walls and streets of Miami

Each December, art collectors from across the world flock to Miami chasing classic and cutting-edge artwork during Art Basel and Miami Art Week. But the real show takes place beyond the fancy galleries when art spills onto the streets, rooftops and even schools. Dozens of glamorous parties take place across Miami Beach, but it's likely you'll stumble upon free performances just as good in the streets of Wynwood.

The walls of the neighborhood have attracted street artists for more than a decade, and the growth of the urban art scene has drawn new business to the area, from home goods stores to a vintage cars and guitars boutique. This expansion has pushed galleries into nearby neighborhoods, such as Little Haiti.

The commercialization of Wynwood hasn't yet turned off international urban artists, who still come to Miami during Basel in search of white walls and new connections. Meanwhile, local artists have carved their space into major venues and organized their own projects with the intention of preserving the identity of Miami neighborhoods.

The RAW Project

While blank walls are rare in the streets of Wynwood, inside Eneida M. Hartner Elementary School the walls had been white and khaki. Until now.

Throughout this week, the RAW project brought more than 30 artists from across the United States and the world to transform the dull walls into colorful artworks. Former public school teacher Robert de los Rios started the project in 2014, curating murals inside the Jose de Diego Middle School in Wynwood, just a few blocks away from Eneida M. Hartner.

"People who actually live in Wynwood never got to experience what it is that created Wynwood, the art mecca that it is today," de los Rios say. "So I think it's just right to give them the opportunity to experience this before it's taken away."

Artist Jules Muck drove from Venice Beach, Calif., to participate in the project. On Thursday, she painted a sleepy lion on a wall under a curved ceiling.

"Everyone asks me what I'll paint before they show me the wall, but I don't do that. I like to go to the wall," she says. "When I saw this wall, the first thing I thought was that you're in a cave. Then I thought of animals that live in caves that are scary maybe for kids. The world is scary and full of intimidating things, so this is for them to remember that everybody has a soft spot."

The walls of Shepard Fairey

Eneida M. Hartner will also get a wall by Shepard Fairey, the Los Angeles-based artist responsible for the "Hope" poster from Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

Fairey is no stranger to the neighborhood. He created one of the original murals of Wynwood Walls in 2009, when the outdoor museum opened. He repainted that same mural with an image of Walls founder Tony Goldman in 2012, the year he passed away.

On Tuesday, Fairey, who's also a DJ, played music at the Walls during a private event that unveiled 12 new "Fear Less" murals.

"They keep changing the art, so they're not like, 'OK, we did our thing and now let's sit back,'" Fairey says. "They're expanding, and bringing in new people, and changing the walls. So it remains really vibrant and exciting."

Fairy also worked on two murals outside the Walls this week. One at Mana Contemporary called "Mother Nature on the Run" about humanity's lack of respect for the environment. The second one, inside the school, shows two hands holding up planet Earth inside a flower.

"That's a little more positive," he says. "I'm trying to go both directions with my work, things that celebrate something good, and critique something bad."

The mermaid's turn

Miami artist Tatiana Suarez has been known for painting giant mermaids with large dreamy eyes since 2009. This year, she was the only local artist invited to paint one of the 12 new murals inside Wynwood Walls.

"It's such an honor, and for me it's like reaching a level of accomplishment," she says. "Now I made it inside the Walls."

Suarez's wall showcased a topless woman lying on a bed of sea-grape leaves with a baby alligator resting on her arm.

"I wanted to bring a little bit of local flavor and local love inside Wynwood Walls because there aren't a lot of local artists," she says. "My work is heavily inspired by nature and I'm always adorning my girls with flora and fauna."

It also represents one of her favorite spots in Key Biscayne.

"It's just one of the beaches there. The sea-grape leaves start forming these domes and caves, and you can kind of just go there and relax," she says. "To me, that's one of my favorite places to go when I'm feeling overwhelmed or stressed out."

The first roof

Besides painting one of the 12 "Fear Less" murals, London-based urban artist Fin Dac is also working on Wynwood Walls' rooftop.

Both murals showcase beautiful Asian women. The smaller wall shows a woman surrounded by butterflies, while the rooftop features a girl lying in a bath tub.

"I'm known for painting Asian and ethnic girls, hopefully not in a sexualized way. I think I paint them quite strong and empowered," he says. " When I started doing this maybe eight years ago, the men's magazines in England were quite prolific and there were loads of sexualization, and I just wanted to do something a little bit differently."

Dac has been coming to Miami to paint murals for the past four years, but this is his first time inside the Walls.

"Miami is one of those places that you can come year round and potentially paint," he says. "Maybe in the summer it might be a little too hot, but for people in Europe, anywhere in the winter, we can't paint, because it's freezing and wet."

Outside the Walls

Houston street artist Sebastien "Mr. D" Boileau first heard of Wynwood in 2010 when he stopped in Miami for a night on his way to the Caribbean. He painted his first mural one year later, and has been returning to Miami during Art Basel ever since.

"It's probably, in my opinion, the premiere art festival in the world," he says. "Everyone is kind of trying to duplicate what's happening in Wynwood."

This week, he's painting a mural outside White Dot gallery showcasing a ferocious lion next to a monkey smoking a cigarette and wearing a fedora.

"It's a vibe thing," he adds. "You come for fun, exposure maybe, meet new people, and challenge yourself. I think everybody is here to kind of prove a point and rub elbows against the best in the world."

Before the Walls

New York artist Col Wallnuts first came to Wynwood in 2007 looking for the empty walls that were "free for all."

"It's a completely different neighborhood," he says. "Every aspect is different, between the people who come down here, and the businesses that are now here, that were not here 10 years ago, or even a year ago."

His early discovery of the area helped him paint walls year after year, but he fears for newer artists.

"It's so selective to get involved with stuff, and it's usually corporate companies picking artists to come out and do stuff," he says. "It's too business-oriented now. I get it, it's part of the game, but some of the fun is gone."

Music in the streets

After performing at the Wynwood Yard on Dec. 1, members of the Miami-based Big Chief Brass Band walked through the neighborhood playing music.

"Being a musician and giving back to the community is very rewarding, especially at this annual event where it's all about the arts," says tuba player Sandro Paes, of Hollywood. "Every year I have done this event, I see more and more of local musicians going out to the streets and venues of Wynwood and performing their best in front of the crowds."

Beyond Wynwood

Less than three miles away inside the Caribbean Marketplace at Little Haiti Cultural Center, Haitian artist Yael Talleyrand painted on a canvas during the opening of the satellite art fair Art Beat Miami on Nov. 30.

The fair showcased artwork from more than 30 artists from Miami, the Caribbean and South America. Joann Milord started the art show three years ago when she noticed the migration of galleries from Wynwood into Little Haiti.

"We're obviously going through gentrification. I think that we have to try to think more about integration and trying to preserve the culture, but you can't fight money. People are going to come in and they're going to buy. So we hope that there's a sensitivity to the culture," Milord says. "Our plan of attack is to continue to have events like this, where we're branding the area as Little Haiti."

Talleyrand comes often to Miami, even when there's no specific art event for her to participate in, and Little Haiti is her favorite neighborhood.

"I feel so at home here. I can go in the corner store and buy everything I can buy at home," she says. "I see Haitian culture everywhere."

The body as display

Edward Bellot, of Aventura, attended the Art Beat Miami opening reception to see his favorite designer, Stevie Boi, who was showcasing his original glassware creations. But Bellot nearly attracted more attention than the artwork on the walls, with his golden eyebrows and mustache, and his blue hair.

Several people stopped him to take photos. He says he's used to the attention, as his outfits often catch people's eyes anywhere he goes.

"I just wanted to do something experimental today," he says. "Sometimes it is a little bit intrusive especially when I'm commuting home. But it's cute. I think people are showing that they appreciate you as an art form."

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