Land by Nari Ward, one of the pieces to be featured in the Art of Transformation series 
Nari Ward/Lehmann Maupin

It was a Field of Dreams moment for the Opa-locka Community Development Corp. four years ago, when it decided that the South Florida city plagued with poverty, violence and drugs deserved a chance.

So the nonprofit development organization that helps revitalize neighborhoods and keeps them affordable figured if it wanted the neighborhood to be beautiful, it first needed to make it look beautiful—through funding from the Knight Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts to transform public art spaces in one of the city's most notorious neighborhoods.

First “comes a painting, then comes a gallery, then comes a restaurant, then comes a café, then comes a club, then comes a housing development, then comes businesses that support that and hopefully investment,” OLCDC President Willie Logan tells The Root regarding how the Art of Transformation series, now in its third year, as a celebration of the artistic revitalization, was born to help the city.

“We saw it, quite frankly, as a way of helping to revitalize creative interest in a broader group of folks who are willing to live, work and be entertained in this neighborhood, which, to date, is generally geared to blue-collar African Americans and Hispanics that are generally of low-income.”

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In 2010, the OLCDC and others, in a series of community meetings and activities, started discussing how to best help the struggling city, and it was “overwhelmingly agreed that art should be used as the … glue throughout all the work [we] do,” Logan adds. “Whether it’s industrial, retail, entertainment, housing, recreation … that art could be incorporated in that.”

For one, it was seen as a way to attract investors.

The series runs Nov. 12 to Dec. 14 and will feature several performance and visual arts, including an interactive workshop, exhibit and the Art, Food and Music Street Festival, across Miami-Dade County.

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Renowned South African curator Tumelo Mosaka put together this year’s Art of Transformation and says he sought to “provoke people to see things differently.

“I’m trying to paint a picture that is of things we’re familiar with, but looking at them differently. This was inspired particularly by the Moorish architecture, which seems so unobvious for many respects because of its history. … It’s almost like it’s a forgotten past, but I think that it’s something that can also help us think about how we can rethink our present environment,” he says.

And so the artists become individuals who are working with materials that any audience would be familiar with, while presenting these materials in a unique way.

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“I think in a very sort of concise way it’s really about what placemaking means and how we define it for ourselves and also as a community,” Mosaka adds 

There was also the conscious effort to include artists from across the African Diaspora to speak to the roots of the community, what Mosaka describes as “[presenting] a vision that can reflect the local but also connects to other places … sort of like a two-way stream of thinking about local issues but connecting to the larger international context.”

As for the OLCDC’s ultimate plan of revitalization and showing how art can truly transform a community? Well, the success of that is beginning to show already, Logan claims.  

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“When we were building or renting in previous years, we were mostly renting and selling to current residents—people who were already here, just moving out their parents’ house or worse or more expensive situations into a more improved or affordable situation,” says Logan. “Over the past two or three years, we’ve been able to attract at least 50 to 60 percent of our renters and buyers who currently aren’t residents of Opa-locka, and we think part of that has to do with the fact that we have included aesthetic changes not just in the houses we’ve built, but in the neighborhood.”

Efforts, he describes, as simple as doubling a sculpture as a bike rack for aesthetic purposes as well as functionality, and providing more security.

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One example is the neighborhood known as Magnolia North, once called “The Triangle” and infamously known for drug use and violence.

“We have installed security cameras on all our properties … we’ve partnered with the police department, created crime-watch groups and so we haven’t had any violent crimes in that neighborhood over the past three or four years, and 15 years ago, you had 13 murders in that same neighborhood in that one year,” Logan says. “We’ve planted lots of magnolia trees so you see butterflies and bumblebees and types of insects you’ve never seen. Before you saw roaches and rats.”

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Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.