Last month, Wynwood and Miami at large were teeming with international and local artists for the 2014 Art Basel fair. However, for weeks before, many of these artists were using the walls of Jose de Diego Middle School as their canvas.
Despite being the only public middle school serving the community of Wynwood, one of the premier centers for art in the United States, Jose de Diego Middle School did not have funding for an art program.
Robert de Los Rios, a Class of 1995 alumnus from Immaculate Conception Catholic School and a Class of 1999 alumnus of Monsignor Edward Pace High School, was appalled.
“The middle school in Wynwood and they didn’t have an art program!” said De Los Rios. “It’s like saying ‘Let’s go to the Sistine Chapel, but we can’t go to church!’”
Working together with the Wynwood Arts District Association and its head Patrick Walsh, de Los Rios helped create Project: Wynwood and its main venture, the RAW Project. RAW, which stands for “Re-Imagining the Arts in Wynwood,” is a grassroots effort that brings together over 70 local and international street artists to paint murals on the walls of Jose de Diego Middle School in order to fund the school’s art program.
Starting in mid-November, the artists used the school’s massive white walls as canvas to paint brightly colored and elaborate works meant to transform the school for the long-term. The RAW Project earned the attention of national media outlets such as NPR and the Huffington Post. Its fundraising campaign with a long-term goal of $500,000 was officially launched at a Dec. 2 event during the week of Art Basel last month where artists donated some of their work to be sold in an auction to benefit the school.
De los Rios was already in contact with many of these artists through his website, WynwoodMap.com. Opened in 2013, the site tracks and catalogs street art in Wynwood and Miami, utilizing Google Maps to let users to see photos of the artwork itself and its location by clicking on tabs on the site’s street map.
The site also documents when the artwork went up, when it came down, its artist, and where that artist can be contacted. It is an exhaustive, ever-changing catalog useful for those living in and out of South Florida who want to not only see all of the street art Wynwood has to offer, but also discover the artists behind the art. Other than his friend Christopher Montano, who built and maintains the website, De Los Rios does most, if not all, of the legwork for the site himself.
De Los Rios grew up with street art, as he had a friend whom he met in the 4th grade at Immaculate Conception who would paint graffiti in sketch books along with murals for the school. Later in life, De Los Rios would go seek out street art and take pictures of the works himself. He had originally planned to create a book, but he didn’t like the idea that books had an ending, as street art was constantly changing. From there, he worked with his friend to build WynwoodMap.com from the ground up with fresh code, using only Google Maps as the backbone for the map software.
Though the site is focused mainly around Wynwood and Miami at the moment, de Los Rios says the site will continue to grow. “We will be expanding to the point where the word Wynwood will be synonymous with street art worldwide,” said De Los Rios.
To see more pictures of street art in Wynwood and Miami, visit WynwoodMap.com, De Los Rios’ Instagram at @robertskran, and Wynwood Map’s Instagram at @wynwoodmap. For more information on Project: Wynwood and to donate to the RAW Project, visit ProjectWynwood.com.