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Opa-Locka: A City Reenvisioned Through Art

Nadege Green

In the city of Opa-locka, a colorful park stands where liquor bottles and trash once collected in an empty lot.

New and chic affordable housing is popping up. Bright murals decorate buildings downtown.

Three years into a citywide arts transformation, Opa-locka is challenging how outsiders perceive the north Miami-Dade enclave, once better known for its prolific drug trade and gun violence.

Much of this transformation involves collaborations with artists. Artists and their ideas infused are in affordable housing development, urban planning and landscaping.

“I think people thought of Opa-locka as being this place somewhere in Dade County that, ‘I don’t know how quite to get there, but if I did I wouldn’t want to go,’” says Willie Logan, executive director of the Opa-locka Community Development Corporation, which is overseeing the art transformation.

Logan says that's starting to change.

During Art Basel in December the city commissioned work from international dance artist Nora Chipaumire and also showcased art in downtown Opa-locka, drawing hundreds to the city.

Local artist Gary Moore moved his studio to Opa-locka from Dania Beach. He says the city inspires him to create and has potential to be the next arts hub in South Florida.

"What it’s going to do, if it's done properly, is to create a black arts movement," he says.

Until last year,Germaine Barnes was a Los Angeles-based artist and architect.

Credit Nadege Green / WLRN
This is the first park built in Opa-locka in about 30 years. It stands where an empty lot filled with trash once stood.

He’s part of a team the city brought in from L.A., along with local artists, to help re-envision the neighborhood.

Barnes is the city’s designer-in-residence.

“The worst thing that we can do is think we know what’s best for the citizens there, drop our art and leave,” he said.

So he stayed. He lives in Magnolia North, an Opa-locka neighborhood formerly known as “The Triangle,” where much of the redevelopment through arts is happening.

The art transformation project recently received a $100,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, and a lot of what’s happening now got started with a $250,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

“They have a vision, they have a plan, so that’s what I’m most impressed with,” says NEA chair Jane Chu, who recently took a bus tour of Opa-locka. “That type of commitment will help a community jump up and thrive.”

Among the upcoming projects and projects in progress are:

  • A commercial kitchen in downtown Opa-locka for “foodpreneurs” to develop and produce tasty goods. 
  • Incubator pods for creative individuals: filmmakers, writers, designers and artists. 
  • A public art installation using recycled car mirrors from nearby industrial lots. 
  • Mini parks along residential streets. 
  • Artist residence and workspaces.

For more about Opa-locka's art transformation visit opalockaart.com

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