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SOUTHEAST FLORIDA: A TROPICAL ARTS OASIS
 
(2022 - Winter Issue)

Writer: JIM BAMBOULIS



For decades, I was led to believe that Florida’s dramatic Atlantic coastline, between charming Stuart on the Treasure Coast and energetic Miami on the Gold Coast, was solely about fun, sun and Art Deco. To my surprise, I discovered on a recent trip that beyond the epicentre of South Beach notoriety, the spectrum of artistic inspiration is far broader, with creative energies generating a new wave of worldwide attention.

If you thought Art Deco was the “be all, and end all” of artistic expression here, look again because Art Deco has company.

America’s Happiest Seaside Town

Start along Florida’s fabled Treasure Coast. In 2016, Stuart, Florida beat out 300 other destinations for “Happiest Seaside Town” status by Coastal Living magazine. Quite the reward for an Old Florida-style treasure, that’s not known for fanfare.

Locals are all too happy to share centuries-old stories of gold buried at sea by shipwrecked Spanish explorers. As much as these stories intrigue me, I’m more interested in exploring the town’s here and now.

Sunny Stuart’s charm lies in the details, with distinctly Floridian-coloured buildings and seaside cottages. See structures built in the Beaux Arts, colonial revival, and Spanish Mediterranean styles. There’s the Old Colorado Inn, Stuart’s first brick building built in 1914; and the revamped Lyric Theatre, a silent movie house built in 1925, home to Vaudeville acts, and at one time, the largest building in Martin County. Along Osceola Street stroll to the historic Post Office Arcade, a grand fixture of archways and a hidden breezeway that once coveted the title, “the most modern grand post office in America.” Now home to Café Martier, this vintage chic venue is replete with a wine garden, a piano bar, and even a revived speakeasy bar, which still serves Prohibition-era cocktails.

There are vibrant murals scattered downtown, including the quilt-like “Pineapple Pickers” mural on Osceola Street that illustrates Stuart’s pineapple plantation heritage. Nearby an art restoration shop’s entire wall blows me away with its detailed black-and-white rendering of four Stuart-based artists. Turns out local illustrator Benjamin Perez enlisted the services of Martin County high school art students to paint these characters.

Continue along the scenic 3-kilometre Sailfish Healthy Trail that skirts downtown to Riverwalk to view public sculptures depicting local historic moments. There’s acclaimed wildlife artist Geoffrey Smith, whose stunning 5.5-metre signature bronze sailfish is displayed in the town’s centre, a symbol of Stuart’s other famous title, “Sailfish Capital of the World.”

Miami, Beyond Art Deco

Around famous South Beach, follow the red-tinged sidewalks along another famous sun spot, Miami’s Art Deco District for a head-tilting experience. Here nautical architectural designs that made Miami Beach romantically famous mesh with freshly painted pastel façades. Although Art Deco paved the way in the city’s early years, Miami has matured, with push-the-boundary artistic energy that has a conscience. The new Brickell City Center and the revived Frost Museum of Science are open-air architectural marvels designed to positively impact the environment. The former collects rainwater for reuse and allows natural light to enter at all angles, while the latter features permanent exhibitions of the region’s biodiversity and aquatic ecosystems.

Further north in Wynwood, abandoned warehouses have transformed Miami’s original “Little Puerto Rico” neighbourhood into an urban outdoor museum. Dubbed the Wynwood Arts District, it’s been named “one of America’s best hipster neighbourhoods” by Forbes Magazine. Countless galleries are scattered, but I get the most pleasure from meandering through these 25 city blocks, speechless as I try to absorb every ray of colour from the graffiti-style murals. Around the corner, Shepard Fairey—famous for his Obama Hope poster—strikes an emotional chord with his collage murals of late pop culture and social justice figures from David Bowie to Martin Luther King Jr.

Happy to see Art Deco firmly planted in southeastern Florida’s artistic lore, I’m elated to have experienced a boundless artistic expression here. Stuart’s architectural history astounded me; the locals’ passion for contemporary art surprised me. Miami’s energetic art scene, meanwhile, is brimming with award-winning designs. From the Treasure Coast to the Gold Coast, Art Deco has plenty of new company, with visionary artists just getting started.

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For more travel information about Southeast Florida see visitflorida.com

 
 
 
 
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