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How one organization hopes to revitalize Opa-Locka through art

Yemaya, goddess of the living ocean and a cedar sculpture by Jems Robert Koko Bi, sits in the Garden of Humanity, a walk through exhibit during the “Art of Transformation” exhibit preview on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, outside the ARC in Opa-Locka.
Alie Skowronski
/
Miami Herald
Yemaya, goddess of the living ocean and a cedar sculpture by Jems Robert Koko Bi, sits in the Garden of Humanity, a walk through exhibit during the “Art of Transformation” exhibit preview on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, outside the ARC in Opa-Locka.

The Art of Transformation program is being credited with helping revive what just a few years ago was one of South Florida’s most struggling cities, Opa-Locka.

Art Week, one of the world’s largest art events, is over for another year. But for South Florida what matters as much, if not more than the big-money luster of this international gathering, are the more low-key ways art is used to promote and benefit our local communities beyond the spectacle.

A great example is Art of Transformation. The program, created by affordable housing developer Ten North Group, is being credited with helping revive what just a few years ago was one of South Florida’s most struggling cities — Opa-Locka.

“This is really all about showcasing the various neighborhoods and communities and what they have to offer in South Florida,” said Dr. Willie Logan, the group's president and CEO, on the latest edition of The South Florida Roundup. “When it’s all said and done, this is about the people who live here, the people who are stakeholders here.”

Ten North Group's mission is focused on providing access to affordable housing and business opportunities in underserved South Florida communities, like Opa-Locka. One way they promote that work is by using various art exhibitions, performances and film projections — which also draw visitors to the city and bolsters local business opportunities in the art space.

This year, Ten North Group’s program unveiled Africa Global — the largest collection of African art in Florida. The exhibit was shown from Dec. 2 through Dec. 10 at various spots across Opa-Locka. It came about because the group had the opportunity to acquire two art collections traveling through the major capitals of the continent of Africa.

“We’re showing about 35 pieces,” Logan said, adding that they showcase the diaspora of African art beyond the continent, including some with influences from Cuba and Brazil.

READ MORE: Miami-Dade has doubled funding for housing projects. Will it lower rents?

In recent years Opa-Locka had hit a municipal abyss, especially in terms of its finances. Just last month we saw several residents displaced from a dilapidated Opa-Locka apartment complex.

Logan explained that Art of Transformation focuses on what the group calls “creative place-making” — using art to begin re-imagining communities and boost redevelopment in under-resourced areas.

“Art is transformative,” Logan said. “You don’t have to look very far in our community to see what the architecture and the design in Coral Gables, Miami Springs, and South Beach has done to uplift those communities, give them a personality and make them a special place all before they got the good restaurants and nightclubs and high-end condominiums.”

More recently, places like Wynwood, Allapattah and the Design District have shown "what infusing art within real estate development can do to really attract folks" and turn a place into a destination, he explained.

The organization, established in 1980, manages a vast real-estate portfolio including historic properties, commercial parcels and about 1,200 affordable housing units. It intends to bring 1,000 new units of affordable workforce and mixed-income development into Opa-Locka alongside tens of thousands of square feet in commercial and retail space in the coming years, much of which would be focused on small business owners, Logan said.

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Julia Cooper