Christopher Myers: Miami as Text 2022-2023

Christopher Myers next to a nesting Olive Ridley sea turtle on the beach of the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge taken during a research expedition in Ostional, Costa Rica.

Christopher Myers is a senior at Florida International University pursuing his BA in Sustainability and the Environment. After completing his degree, he plans to start a second career in the Environmental Field and hopes to be involved in nature conservation.

Downtown Miami as text

“The Miamians Before the Miamians” by Christopher Myers

The mouth of the Miami River with the Miami Circle National Historic Landmark on the south bank (right) of the river. Taken by Christopher Myers

Miami is one of those cities that has more to see than anyone has free time to actually see it. The beaches, the celebrities, the yachts and exotic cars, Miami has everything to offer to today’s pop culture. But, during this visit around historical parts of the city, we saw the original Miami. We were introduced to The Miami Circle, an archeological site of what is believed to be a village of the Tequesta Tribe, the original Miamians. There is plenty of history of who was originally here, where they lived, how they lived and where they went. The roots of the city go a lot further back than I think most are aware of. 

The original habitants of present day Miami was the native tribe of Tequesta who are believed to have resided in the southeastern Florida area for over 1000 years. The believed Tequesta village, the Miami Circle, is on the south bank of the mouth of the Miami River. These remnants were discovered during a survey for preparation to build multi story buildings. This discovery brought the project to a halt and it was later cancelled. Fortunately, unlike a discovery a short distance away, this site was deemed too important to build over top of and was officially made a historical landmark. 

What makes this so significant to me is that it still exists today and is a preserved and protected site. So much history is lost during new inhabitants and land discoveries to different parts of the world. As mentioned previously, just down the road only a short walk away was the site of another archeological site. What was believed to have been a burial ground with remnants of hundreds of people is now a Whole Foods. This discovery during the construction in the earlier 2010s resulted in a loss to history and a win to commercialism. The remnants were removed and reburied elsewhere and little time was given to study the site. Construction continued on and the burial site was replaced with a stereotypical Native American mural inside the Whole Foods. 

Overtown as text

“Overtown but Under-heard” by Christopher Myers

Greetings from Overtown mural. Photo taken by Christopher Myers

You cannot change the past. You can’t go back in time and change events, change the way things happened nor change the way people were treated. Throughout the history of modern civilization there is more than enough evidence to show that there was improper treatment of people. People that were different, a different language, a different skin of color, a different background, a different ethnicity. People were treated improperly simply because they were different. 

We visited a historical town in Miami called Overtown. Unfortunately, this town has numerous nicknames that do not need to be named. We visited a few important locations within this town that aren’t only important to Overtown, but important to Miami. But unfortunately, these few locations, are some of the last remaining historical sites within Overtown. The rest of the town is nearly gone. The original buildings of are now apartments and townhouses. There is now a main highway going right through the edge of town. 

A Priest of a church lost his house in because it was either the house or the church getting replaced by an on ramp for a highway. The Greater Bethel Church in Overtown was built even before Miami was incorporated in 1896. A historical theater, the Lyric Theatre, where some of the greatest jazz musicians in the world would put on shows for the local community, and even people from outside of the neighborhood would come here to be part of these historical musicians’ shows. These musicians would put on the shows in this town because they could not stay near the venue where they would originally perform. They had to leave south beach or other parts of Miami because they were an African American and they could not stay there for the night so they had to travel to Overtown after their original show and they would perform again at the Lyric Theater. That’s what Overtown is. It is a historical city for the African American community. The town where the African American laborers were segregated to after the train and railway was completed to Miami. They segregated those laborers to what we know today as Overtown, or at least what is left. 

At the Greater Bethel church we got to hear the history and stories from Alberta Godfrey, a member of the church. This church was one of the first buildings in Miami. Not just one of the first buildings in Overtown but one of the first buildings in the entire city of Miami. This church has almost more history than any part of modern civilization in the city of Miami. And it is now surrounded by sky rises, and a highway just a block away. Whether you are a Christian, follow a religion or not, there’s more than that to this church. It’s a piece of Miami. It’s a piece of the African American community in Miami. 

The Greater Bethel church and the Lyric Theatre are two of the few remaining historical locations of this town. But, it was amazing to hear the history of these places. To hear the history of the church and not what it just meant for the local community, it was a part of belonging somewhere. Martin Luther King Junior himself gave a speech here and that is absolutely incredible. One of the most well-known advocates for the African American community and Human rights step foot in this church, stans in front of the community and gave one of his famous speeches. Historical jazz musicians in and out of that theater every night. Those are absolutely incredible stories and pieces of history for Miami. 

Some of this history is hard to see and to learn and here from those that experienced it, that lived it. Some of the things you hear about others some of those stories that make you look down and shake your head in disappointment. The stories of segregation and racism and the poor treatment of other human beings. We can’t change what happened. But, we can learn about the good that overcame it, the fun and the historical events that took place. We can tell others about them and do our best to spread the word through friends and family, through this blog, through the school about the amazing history that this town holds and what it has to offer to the history of Miami. We can give them a voice.

Painting by Purvis Young, a Overtown resident, can be found in the Northside Metrorail station. Photo taken by Christopher Myers

Chicken Key as text

“The Good and the Bad” by Christopher Myers

Outdoors, physical activity and helping the environment. One great combination of activities for someone with my interests. What a start to the day, arriving at the canoe and kayak launch point to see a handful of manatees enjoying themselves foraging along the bottoms of the inlet at the Deering Estate. Schools of fish jumping out of the water with this beautiful synchronized splash of nature. But then the hard part. 

Leaving the freshwater of the mangroves and heading back to the ocean. Photo taken by Christopher Myers

There were a lot of physical demands during this day adventure out to Chicken Key, located just south of Biscayne Bay, Miami. Kayaking an estimated 1 mile out with the wind at your face. Walking through smelly shoreline sludge carrying bags of garbage and gear. Dealing with the elements of the heat and sun. The list can go on but they were not the hardest part of the trip. The hardest part was realizing after we spent hours picking up dozens of bags of garbage from the island, it would not fix the problem. The problem is the source of the litter. Where is it coming from? Is it coming from the north from Miami or the east from the Caribbean, or the south and southwest from the Gulf of Mexico or the Florida Keys? The answer could possibly be, all the above. The amount and variety of debris was all over the place. There were parts of the island that looked like someone emptied a garbage can on and you could not see the ground. Varying items from boating and fishing equipment to an empty bottle of olive oil to Michael Jordan sandal. The amount of rope tangled in the trees and buried on the island was incredible. Rope that has been on the island for so long, trees started to grow around it. It goes to show that the debris that washes up on this island is not a recent problem. 

But sometimes you have to stop focusing on the negatives and take a look around and recognize what you are doing. The good stuff. You are on an uninhabited, mostly natural island. Schools of baitfish swimming along the shore, around your feet, hermit crabs crawling around everywhere you look. To learn that there are native Diamondback Terrapin nesting on the island. Different species of wading birds resting in the trees or walking the shores looking for its next meal. After you recognize what is around you, then you have to realize what you are doing. You are improving the environment and habitat for all of these different species of creatures living on and around the island. They’re worrying about one thing, survival. This debris can be mistaken as food, or shelter and bring harm to the animals around you. You are helping them with their daily tasks, you are improving their life and making it a bit easier. Finally, the group arrives to back to the main shore and everyone starts to pull all of the sacks of trash out of the canoes. You look at the true scale of the impact that you made and were a part of and it has to give you some sense of accomplishment. Hundreds of animal’s lives were improved and we won’t be the last ones to do it. 

The collective efforts by the group and the incredible amount of debris removed from the island. Photo taken by Jennifer Rodriguez

South Beach as text

“South Beach, Behind the Curtain” by Christopher Myers

South Beach Miami, the nightlife, the clubs, the pool parties, Miami music week, the partying and the fun. Miami is filled with this fun extravagant lifestyle and vacationing and party scenes and a lot of that starts on South Beach. But what we saw in South Beach was something a little different. We explored and learned about what makes South Beach unique outside of what attracts it to tourists from around the world. We learned how South beach drastically transformed in just a few decades. From a barrier island of mostly mangroves to one of the largest tourist destinations for the beach and nightlife in the country. Learning the history of South Beach and how it started with a few buildings and then a hotel and then more hotels and it just continue to grow from there. From a millionaires vacation destination that started as one of the most dreadful places to be in with the unnavigable mangroves, the brackish water, the mosquitos to the attraction for millions of people annually is one remarkable transformation. But let’s look beyond all the glitz and glamour. Let’s pull back the curtains a little bit and see what makes it unique outside all of the tropical paradise. Let’s start with Barbera Baer Capitman and the forming of the Miami Design Preservation League. An organization that’s sole goal was the preserve the traditional architecture found on Ocean Drive and around South Beach. These original buildings have three common styles of architecture you will see, Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival and Miami Modern (MiMo).

All three architecture styles found on South Beach, one after another. (left to right) Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival, MiMo. Photo taken by Christopher Myers

If you just take a stroll down Ocean Drive pay attention to the style and shape of each building you will see a pattern but it’ll only be a pattern of these three. And that is agreed-upon and extensive permits must be obtained to make any renovations to the original buildings. With how much of a cash cow South Beach is and how millionaires and billionaires probably drool over finding ways of packing sardines of tourists into tiny cans of high-rise buildings but for the city of Miami and South Beach to maintain their traditional look is monumental. There’s a few pop culture attractions that can be found on Ocean Drive. From a staircase found in a scene from the infamous film, Scarface to the dreadful murder of the designer Gianni Versace on his staircase, both found just feet off of Ocean Drive. Now lets get off the beaten path and look at some of the artwork that can be found. The Betsy Orb, a unique spherical structure found in an alleyway connecting two hotels just one block from the beach and the Betsy Poetry Rail, found just around the corner from the Orb, displaying poetry from 12 artists that were a part Miami’s culture. Two unique structures that are a must see.

Now there are going to be some problems with everything we see on South Beach, once being a barrier island. All the mangroves served their purpose and with changes we see with in the climate, extreme weather and sea rise, the future of South Beach is in question. We know the island has solidified what type of architecture you can find and skyrises will not be a threat to South Beach, it’s the nature that will. Art Deco, Miami Modern and Mediterranean Revival will remain standing on Ocean Drive, but how long will they remain above water? 

Rubell Museum as text

“Is Art Everywhere? Is Art Everything?” by Christopher Myers

What an opportunity it was to visit the Rubell Museum. Not only did we get a tour of some of the long-term and even the most recent projects and displays of art around the museum but we also got to hear from and even ask cofounder, Mera Rubell, questions as well. It was incredible to learn that their collection started when they were a teacher and a medical student. From saving money every month to owning multiple art collections and museums on the eastern United States. Walking through the museum showed various contemporary pieces of art. From your standard painting, self-portrait, a photo to mechanical piece that has been moving for over a year. 

Some may ask, what is art? To me, there is no exact answer. Art comes in many many shapes, sizes, difficulties and interpretations. One could argue the way the collector displays the art is an art itself. Finding the art to display, or the artist to work with, or having an eye for someone’s talents could be interpreted as art as well. 

Relating back to mechanical art, we got to see and learn about Urs Fisher’s Branches. Two cast aluminum tree branches spinning from electrical motors in the ceiling at lengths, speeds and heights. Each branch has a burning candle at the end and as the branches spin and the wax drips to the ground forming a Venn diagram. What is the art? Is the device the art? Or is the Venn diagram being created by the device the art? A great piece that can cause you question plenty with no right or wrong answer. 

Urs Fisher’s Branches in display at the Rubell Museum photo taken by Christopher Myers

The next question, is art ever finished? We got to see Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden. Starting in 1966, a “garden” of chrome speres spread across the floor of the exhibition. This piece has seen some changes over the years, originally starting as plastic spheres and eventually moving to stainless steel. Starting in Italy and moving across the world to Brazil and different parts of New York and now residing in Miami. From ponds to galleries and museums, this is a piece that can change shapes and sizes and location over the years. 

“A selfie in the Garden.” A photo using one of the stainless steel spheres from Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden photo taken by Christopher Myers

Continuing with Yayoi Kusama, we got to experience two more of her pieces. Two Infinity Rooms, Where the Lights in My Heart Go, 2016 and INFINITY MIRRORED ROOM – LET’S SURVIVE FOREVER, 2017. These two pieces are not something you can simply look at or watch. You must immerse yourself within them and experience the infinite displays. 

The Rubell Museum offers something for everyone. There is plenty of pieces on display and in the collection to keep you there for hours. Art consisting of numerous styles, cultures and interpretations.

Untitled Art as text

“An Untitled Display of Diversity” by Christopher Myers

First of all, the structure to host the Untitled Art fair sitting on the sand of South Beach is such a unique characteristic of its own. A very neat experience to walk from Ocean Avenue across the sandy walkway through the sand dunes to the beach where there were thousands of pieces of art by many artists from all backgrounds, ages, experience and disciplines. 

The entrance of Untitled Art on South Beach. Photo taken Christopher Myers

We had the very fortunate opportunity to hear from the director of the fair and from numerous gallery operators. A really special moment to learn about to story behind the operation of the fair and the history of the galleries and the purpose of giving artists a place to display their visions and passions and stories. But, I want to focus on the diversity on display. 

To walk up and down each “hallway” and see where each gallery came from showed that this was truly an international event. Galleries and artists from all over the Americas, Asia and Europe were all on display. Strolling through each gallery and reading about each artist and their background. I am not sure I have ever been a part of something as diverse as that. Even though the gallery was from a part of Europe doesn’t mean all of the artists were. United States galleries had artists from Europe and Asia. European galleries had artists from Central and South America and the Untied States. The intermixing of backgrounds and cultures was found in every corner, every inch of the fair. 

Not only was there such a variety within the galleries and from the artist, there was a vast variety in the works of art as well. Structures, photographs, the numerous types of paintings, materials and techniques as well. From stone, to a repurposed lamp and even a taxidermized fox covered in cotton balls. Wherever you looked, nothing was the same. 

It was an honoring moment to be amongst such an array of international expression.  The most impactful pieces of art that I came across was in the Voloshyn Gallery from Kyiv, Ukraine. Possibly inspired from the recent attack within their country and the bravery of the civilian men and women fighting for the freedom, their safety and their people. Out of all of the incredible pieces on display, I think this is the one that stopped me in my tracks. I couldn’t help but stop and immediately reflect on the stories coming out of Ukraine for the last year. It was joyful to see a part of the world experiencing so much still present and showing the world they’re not letting their situation keep them from being a part of an international event Sowing everyone they will not be held back and displaying that artist’s perception of the experiences of those in Ukraine.  

The celebration of art but a reminder of the reality of many in Ukraine. Photo taken by Christopher Myers

Wynwood as text

“A little bit of everything, inside and outside of the Walls” by Christopher Myers

One place that I tell others is a must see/visit in the Miami area is Wynwood. Probably my favorite town in the area and somewhere I have been able to see grow and change even as a non-native Floridian. Something Wynwood does not lack is some variety, mostly known for the street art, but it has everything you need. You could spend a few hours during the day eating or shopping or sightseeing or spend the entire day. If you find the daytime-exploring carry you into the night, there is plenty more to do as well. 

Formerly the entrance and now the exit of the Wynwood Walls. photo taken by Christopher Myers

Let’s start with the food, plenty of options for anyone. Whether you want a diverse selection of street food, something to grab from a food truck, or some fast casual dining, you will find it. If you’re a fan of ice cream, you can stop by Dasher and Crank, a competitor in The Food Network’s Clash of the Cones. Stop in to 1800 Lucky and find a food court styled dining with a great variety of Asian cuisine. My go-to and a place that never fails me is Coyo Taco. Who can say no to some fresh elote? How about some freshly brewed coffee for the walk back to the car? 

How about some shopping? Whether you’re looking for high fashion or something from a local designer, you will find it. Plenty of options for furniture, shoes, technology and art supplies as well. Even some of the art found in the galleries in the Wynwood walls (we’ll get there) is available for sale. My favorite place to browse has some sort of trinket for anyone. From one-off art to various cook books. From a “rabbit in the hat” toothpick holder to a ceramic hand key holder. One of those stores that carries some of the most random “must-haves.”

Lastly, let’s talk about the art. Inside and outside of the Wynwood walls, it’s presence is KNOWN. Undoubtedly the main reason for the growth of Wynwood and the surrounding area. I have been visiting the walls since 2014 and it has been fun to see it change every couple of years, for the most part. The “walls” are pieces of street art whether on the side of a building or on some purposed shipping containers or in the middle of the courtyard of the walls. But, they are not all permanent. I was there last week (December 42022) and as much as it is fun to see change and new, unique pieces added, my favorite piece that has been there since 2018 was replaced. As much as it is disappointing that it is no longer there, it is part of the walls and what makes it so unique. 

A new mural that is currently being added by Mikael Brandrup. photo taken by Christopher Myers
My favorite mural that I have seen in the Wynwood Walls painted by Edwardo Kobra from the Walls of Change: The Story of the Wynwood Walls book found in the souvenir store. photo taken by Christopher Myers

Whether its food, fashion, trinkets, appreciation of art or a coffee that you’re looking for, you’ll find it in Wynwood. 

FIU has its very own street mural. “Panther Pride” by Nate Dee Go Panthers! photo taken by Christopher Myers

Miami Reflection as text

“Me and Miami. Relationship status: it’s complicated” by Christopher Myers

The first time I visited Miami was in 2014. Why did I visit? Miami Music Week. Ultra Music Festival. South Beach. Night life. Food, fun and sunburn? That is how I saw Miami as a non-native Floridian and probably how most see it as well.

The sea of people at Ultra Music Festival 2014. photo taken by Christopher Myers

Long story short, two years later I found myself relocating to South Florida to continue a relationship that started here, in Miami. At the music festival in a crowd of tens of thousands of people, of all places. I moved just north of Miami in Broward County but of course visiting Miami was a weekend norm. Well, it was. After experiencing the traffic, the cost of parking and the chaos, I started to avoid Miami. I was over it. The nightlife and the expensive restaurants and South Beach, they were no longer worth it. Things I no longer had much interest in.

An infrequent visit to the Miami area. The Wynwood Walls with my puppy in 2019. photo taken by Christopher Myers

This class has taught me how to navigate my way to and from and around Miami. Spending $5 on a Miami metrorail day pass or using the Metromover for FREE. There is a metrorail station about 20-30 minutes from most of Broward County and a $5 pass can remove the (majority of) chaos of venturing to Miami by car. The traveling time may be around the same but the headache is gone, not to mention the money saved by not paying for parking.

But I have already seen and experienced typical Miami, why would I want to continue to visit Miami? Well that brings me to the next thing that this class has taught me. The culture and the history. We visited some incredible places, plenty of which I will return and spend more time experiencing and exploring. (I revisited the Rubell museum 2.5 weeks after our class visit). Places I will bring others (by metro if possible) and teach them what I learned and experienced. The historical estates and their history. The large varieties or art galleries and museums and many other academic attractions that Miami has to offer.

Revisiting the Rubell Museum. photo taken by Christopher Myers

Miami has a lot more to offer than yachts, partying, nightlife, beaches etc etc. The abundance of art and history to see, the easy navigation of the city with the metro. That will bring me back, and with friends and family. 

Author: chrismyers123

Christopher Myers is a senior at Florida International University pursuing his BA in Sustainability and the Environment. After completing his degree, he plans to start a second career in the Environmental Field and hopes to be involved in nature conservation.

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