Droppin’ Knowledge: The Gentlefication Theory

By - Friday, January 30th, 2015

The concept was to create the worlds largest, public, open-air street art gallery. This was not an impossible idea, as restaurateur and real-estate mogul Tony Goldman had already purchased and revitalized parts of SoHo and South Beach, turning them into arts-rich neighborhoods full of creativity, and ultimately, profit. Wynwood was another project, transformed from an ignored corner of Miami to one of the most popular street-art attractions world wide, both thanks and not thanks to Goldman Properties.

There’s no doubt that Tony Goldman and Jeffery Deitch have worked to elevate the visibility of the street art world. Even just backing the integrity and history of street art and graffiti is essential support. There is however, something that troubles me about Wynwood and the promises it has made.

The Wynwood Walls project is a contradiction within itself. On one hand it embodies the free nature of public street art, inviting the community to thrive within the creative atmosphere and expand. On the other hand, this gentrifying process has been known to evict tenants and remind the general public that there is no place for mediocrity in a world-class city. Goldman coined the term “gentlefication” to express his desires for Wynwood as a finished product. Slow, gradual introductions of institution, structure, and economy to help revitalize and flourish an impoverished but creative neighborhood. From what I have gathered, the ideal outcome of “gentlefication” is the incorporation of small, local businesses that produce interesting and creative jobs available to lower-income residents, students, and artists. wether or not this process is valid is hard to determine, but it’s certainly evident that Wynwood has been reborn after a major transformation, for better or worse.

All in all it’s a conflicting idea – even though Wynwood is now thriving, what happened to the locals that used to call it home? Jessica Goldman, Tony’s daughter, took over Goldman Properties in 2012 after his passing.  I believe this quote speaks volumes of her intentions in carrying on with Wynwood “It’s not just curating art, it’s curating tenants.” This quote, from Life in the Penit: Framing and Performing Miami’s Graffiti Subculture, is an interesting dissertation by Victor Merida. This is certainly a disturbing notion to consider when her father had claimed to introduce a slow, “gentlefication” to allow the tenants to participate in Wynwood’s reconstruction. Wether Tony and Jessica had the same intentions remains unclear, but the apparent disregard for those who called the original Wynwood home, as disheveled as it may have been, is upsetting. Graffiti and street art stems from many places and people, it acts as a voice for those who do not have one in the eye of the public, so I find it hard to see Wynwood as a place that represents the ‘people’ instead of representing the art market.

But is there any ‘right’ way to do it? Money runs the world, definitely the art world, and Goldman Properties found a way to capitalize on a passion and an up-and-coming trend in the art scene. But are 5 star restaurants, cafes and galleries the ideal infrastructure to encompass the largest outdoor street art gallery? Who’s to say? On one hand, Wynwood has become a wildly successful place for artists to showcase their talents, meet and collaborate, and celebrate their passion. On the other, it has become a gentrified tourist attraction with shady beginnings looking to make a dime wherever possible.

“Gentlefication” is a curious term, it invites a lot of speculation and consideration. To me, it feels possible in theory, but not on paper. If this gentle process can replace the rapid placement of Starbucks across major art districts, then let’s see it through. But, if it’s simply a cover-up for the exact same production we’ve seen in every other arts district, then it’s time to keep a sharper eye on just how Goldman Properties plans to continue. What do you think? Is Gentlefication a reliable process? Could it work in your neighborhood? Did it work in Wynwood? Comment below, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.


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