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Little Haiti: Picture of a Miami Enclave

Artists Paint Their Way Northbound


Irene Sperber

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Tucked away west of Biscayne Boulevard lies Little Haiti, originally known as Lemon City. The area has been quietly pulsing with select private studio spaces for a number of years. A growing art movement is slowly, but clearly, defining the colorful neighborhood as more artists arrive. Strewn about are more indications of creation in the form of Sweat Records and iconic Churchill’s Pub, a bastion of our music scene for years. The Fountainhead Studios and Residency has thrived in the area since its 2008 inception.

Named for growing sweet lemons, Lemon City has a rich history. It was around before Miami incorporated (1896), and the home of Miami's first school and library. As the Haitian immigration began arriving over 35 years ago, the name morphed into Little Haiti. Boundaries vary, but basically run from 54th to 87th Street, Interstate 95 and the railway running east/west.

Friday, July 17, marked the opening of Laundromat Gallery and Art Space, a new enterprise conjured up partially by the Lincoln Road shift, augmented by Bakehouse alumni, et al; several artists took the opportunity to entertain new ideas and began this new artist run collective. Nine studios and a gallery make up the setting.

Principals are: Bianca Pratorius, Michael Williams, Ronald Sanchez, Andres Martinez, Pablo Constrisciani, a Jean-Paul Mallozzi, Marina Gonella, Christin Paige Minnotte and, last but not least, David McCauley.

LEFT: Artist David McCauley (Laundromat) explaining his piece

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LEFT: Artist David McCauley (Laundromat) explaining his piece "Know Love." RIGHT: Laundromat Artspace, wall mural by Tatiana Suarez and Kamea Hadar. Photo: Irene Sperber.

Bianca Pretorius muses on her journey: “After the initial disappointment about the sale of the 800/810 Art Center buildings (Lincoln Road), we quickly regrouped and formed the "Laundromat". We had an amazing time at the Art Center and the interactions with the public are priceless. Many of us have longed for an artist run small co-op we could call our own so we made that our focus. The intimacy of the space and the fact that we all know and like each other make the Laundromat an ideal work environment. Everything is decided democratically and we all have a vested interest in making the Laundromat a success.”

She continued: “Being ‘Knight Art Challenge’ finalists we, as a collective, have some very specific ideas about how to integrate and enhance the community. We will be offering workshops, curatorial opportunities and residencies in the near future amongst many other things.” (Laundromat is, in fact, one of the 71 finalists in the Knights Arts Challenge.)

Thoughts from another Laundromat artist, Michael Williams: “The anticipation for the space is high and connecting art with the community is one of our main goals. We have started working with outside organizations to set up community programming and our continuously changing curatorial events one of the many ways to bring art into the community as well as showcase art from the area. The largest plus that the Laundromat has is the fact that it's something that we, as artists, are building.”

LEFT: Artist Bianca Pretorius (Laundromat) with unfinished series piece

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LEFT: Artist Bianca Pretorius (Laundromat) with unfinished series piece "Unfolded", collage/screen printing. RIGHT: Artist Michael William (Laundromat) with "Mirroring the Reflection .4", water color & oil on canvas. Photo: Irene Sperber.

I asked artist and motivator David McCauley about choosing the Laundromat for this next venture:

“Little Haiti kind of chose me. I contacted one of my art collectors who is also a developer and owns property in Little River and Little Haiti to see if he had any buildings available where we could build a little artist co-op. After a couple months of searching and viewing several properties we agreed the location at 5900 N.E. 2nd Ave. was the best for our long-term vision. Having finished up my undergraduate degree years ago through an exchange program in Jamaica, the Caribbean culture of the neighborhood felt very warm and familiar to me. I think the neighborhood already offers a lot artistically and culturally. We hope to add to that.”

LEFT: Little Haiti Cultural Complex (LHCC), RIGHT: Yeelen Gallery director Karla Ferguson with husband and artist, Jerome Soimaud and Chris Bosh, rear. Photo courtesy: Yeelen Gallery.

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LEFT: Little Haiti Cultural Complex (LHCC), RIGHT: Yeelen Gallery director Karla Ferguson with husband and artist, Jerome Soimaud and Chris Bosh, rear. Photo courtesy: Yeelen Gallery.

And David’s Rise Up project? How will that manifest? “The Laundromat Art Space is a project that falls under the non-profit umbrella of the Rise Up Gallery. Similar to the Art Workshop programming we do at Jackson Memorial Hospital, we will offer workshops to the community at the Laundromat.”

McCauley will do his own artwork as well as continue with the non profit RiseUp to Cure Paralysis projects. McCauley teaches art therapy at Jackson Memorial Hospital and will continue free workshops and pop-up exhibits for people living with paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis.

Why named The Laundromat you may ask? It’s last life was a local laundromat; the artists wanted to retain a bit of history and continuity to the experience. (I will refrain from any clever laundromat puns at this juncture, you’ll be pleased to note.) Little Haiti Cultural Complex is the central hub to the spokes holding the Little Haiti movement together. The space is focused on “bringing together people and ideas to promote, showcase and support Afro-Caribbean culture in South Florida,” according to info from LHCC. Programs include Performing and Visual arts, Language, After School, Mind, Body & Spirit.

The Carnival Photography Exhibition will begin Aug. 1 and run through Aug. 31. There's also a Call to Artists: The Local Artist Series VI will feature only local Miami artists, 18 years and older at any stage in their career.

LEFT: TransCuba exhibition piece:

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LEFT: TransCuba exhibition piece: "Lady and Laura, at the Las Vegas Club, Havana by Mariette Pathy Allen."RIGHT: Karla Ferguson, Director and Owner of Yeelen in her gallery. Photo courtesy Yeelen Gallery.

LHCC will hold its17th annual Afro Roots World Music Festival August 6 to 8. The Thursday kick-off will jump start at Blackbird Ordinary, 729 S.W. 1st Ave, Miami, 33130. Visit site for early tickets to all events.

Big Night in Little Haiti is held (free) every month on the third Friday. Aug. 21 from 6 to 10 p.m. will experience music, art, food and culture produced by The Rhythm Foundation and Little Haiti Cultural Center.

To round out the overview, I spoke with the owner/director Karla Ferguson of the Yeelen Gallery on her experience in Little Haiti. “I have been working in Little Haiti since 2008 and opened my incubator and gallery in 2011. We first bought 54th Street because my husband was here all the time documenting street life and voodoo ceremonies; he was contributing African Religious studies (at various universities).

Buildings around them started to sell more rapidly as time went on on. Previously they had been in Wynwood and found Little Haiti quiet at first, but during Art Basel last year there were 3000 visitors. Ferguson also sits on the “Northeast 2nd Avenue Partnership” effort, dedicated to the area’s revitalization.

Yeelens’s next exhibit (October through December) titled TransCuba is a solo exhibition by New York based photographer Mariette Pathy Allen. Allen has been documenting transgender culture worldwide for over 30 years and has captured the transgender community of Cuba through 80 vibrant color photographs. “We are growing an attracting an international roster.” Ferguson shared regarding their current future.

Info:

Little Haiti Cultural Complex
212 – 260 NE 59 Terrace
Miami 33137
Tel: (305) 960-2969.

Laundromat Art Space
5900 NE Second Ave
Miami, 33127
Tel: (303) 960-7810.

Yeelen Gallery
294 NW 54th Street
Miami 33127
Tel: (954) 235-4758.

Summer hours: Open by appointment. September through May: Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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