COCONUT GROVE BANNERS ARE PIECES OF ART
By Jonel Juste
Poetry is blooming in Coconut Grove.
Miami’s original arts district is exhibiting 100 Zip code-inspired poems, printed on banners placed on streetlight posts throughout the neighborhood.
The Coconut Grove Business Improvement District (BID) partnered with the literary arts organization O, Miami for the exhibit, which was designed to welcome residents back outdoors while inviting nonresidents to discover the area through poetry.
At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered galleries, museums and performance venues, these poems are providing passers-by with a safe way to enjoy public art in a scenic, outdoor setting, according to the exhibition’s organizers. Visitors can wander through the area wearing a mask, social distancing and observing art – finding a new poem every couple hundred feet as if participating in a treasure hunt.
“This is a unique and special and local art and literature experience that people can experience in a very safe manner,” says Abigael Mahony, executive director of the Coconut Grove BID. “It’s specific to the fact that we are in a new normal and we are adjusting to that as well.”
Written by residents of the neighborhood, the banners pay homage to the area’s rich history and eclectic culture. Coconut Grove touts itself as Miami’s original art district.
“This neighborhood has always had a bit of an irreverent vibe compared to other neighborhoods in Miami,” says Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell, who is also chairman of the Coconut Grove BID. “It never really conformed to authority, and that comes from its roots in the art culture.
“In the ’60s and ’70s, a lot of artists and musicians settled in Coconut Grove and that became part of the personality of the neighborhood. People would have studios in their homes and apartments where they’d produce art, sculpture, music,” he adds. “Coconut Grove also started one of the country’s best art festivals, the annual Coconut Grove Arts Festival, where people from all over the country come to enjoy and buy art.”
The poetic initiative stemmed from a contest organized by O, Miami and local radio station WLRN, which invited people on the air to submit poems about their Zip code. For the contest, the two created an original, poetic format referred to as a “Zip Ode,” a five-line poem where the numbers of the Zip code determine the number of words on each line.
So, for example:
Mangos are blooming (3)
Peacocks are calling (3)
Weather is warming (3)
Long summer promised (3)
“Every poem is much like a Japanese haiku in a 33133 format. This is our first exercise in written art, and it’s very unique,” says Russell. “It generated so much participation from the public that we thought [the exhibit] would be a great way for people to finally see their poems.”
More than 1,000 works were submitted, and 100 were chosen for the banners, which have been up since June 9. The exhibit features poems from residents of all ages, including third- and fourth-graders from Coconut Grove Elementary School.
“Those poems really highlighted the unique and diverse aspect of the Grove,” Mahony says. “Coconut Grove is naturally poetic. We have a hub of artists and musicians. We are in an area filled with innovative and creative people.
“Moreover, as a place, Coconut Grove has the water, the bay, the lush green trees, the amazing peacocks, and wildlife. It is a beautiful, fascinating and ever-changing place that lends itself to a description of poetry.”
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