Art now a part of Miami Beach cityscape

Title: Art now a part of Miami Beach cityscape: Art is popping up in unexpected places in Miami Beach these days, as manhole covers and trashcans, as part of a recent city-sponsored competition
Author/Reporter: Tania Valdemoro
Date: April 23, 2008

Stroll some streets of South Beach and you may find new art beneath your feet. Or, more precisely, beneath your car: Yes, these are new manhole covers, and they’re not your run-of-the-mill cast-iron lids.

True to their surroundings, the metal objets d’art feature an Art Deco motif of palm fronds with ocean waves, a sunrise and a star — all the brainchild of landscape architect Garren Owens, who won a city- sponsored competition seeking unique designs.

”I’ve left my mark on Miami Beach,” Owens joked, standing next to one of his manhole covers as cars whizzed by on 11th Street between Washington and Collins avenues. His design was chosen from among 29 submissions.


The covers are just one way that public works are being turned into public art in Miami Beach. Also in the works: beautified trashcans on the beach and camouflaged control panel boxes for the sewer system.

The steel trashcans, festooned with colorful bands of wildlife and marine scenes, were unveiled Tuesday — Earth Day — at an ”eco fashion show” at the Sagamore Hotel. The goal: Drum up sponsors for ”Eco Art Gallery by the Sea,” a project that marries art and ecology.

Luiz Rodrigues, executive director of the Environmental Coalition of Miami Beach, wants to adorn all 204 beach trash bins from Government Cut to 23rd Street with marine and wildlife scenes. Since March, 60 artists have answered a call for submissions, sending in 170 designs. Sponsor a trash can — $2,500 for one, $5,000 for three — and your money will go toward beach cleanup and sand-sifting efforts.

The idea was born last August, after Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez proposed cutting a second county beach maintenance crew to save $280,000. Loud community protests eventually spared the crew, but the idea of independent funding didn’t go away.

Artist Sid Daniels, who submitted eight designs, predicts the decorated trashcans will turn the beach into an unforgettable sight.

”It’s boring right now, just white sand. These trashcans are really going to pop out against that,” he said. Considered together, the public projects translate into new places for art, new voices being heard, new ways to define Miami Beach’s identity, supporters say.

For City Manager Jorge Gonzalez, the brains behind the manhole makeover, it all boils down to beauty. ”We can just make an ugly manhole cover or we can put on an artist’s design,” he said. “The cost is the same.

”Putting art in public places is not just about hanging paintings. It’s also about integrating art into your engineering,” Gonzalez added.


Glenn Weiss, a local expert on public art programs, thinks the latest efforts are encouraging. ”Miami Beach has been kind of quiet with public art. They have the capacity to do more,” he said.

But ever proving that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not everyone appreciates — or notices — the public art.

Muli Yerushalmi, whose Market Zone store on 11th Street is about five feet from a new manhole cover, said he hadn’t seen it because of passing cars. Upon closer inspection, he said, ”It’s nice. You know, it’s Art Deco.” But then, he pointed out, “Look, it’s already dirty.”

And then there is the ongoing saga of three ugly control panel boxes for the sewer system. Located at the corner of Third Street and Washington Avenue in South Beach, the boxes have been an eyesore for years, residents say.

In 2002, the City Commission awarded artist Paul Fullerton $100,000 to build Corona del Mar, a 10-foot conical stainless steel structure, to camouflage the boxes. Fullerton spent $70,000 to create molds, but delays, requests for more money and Fullerton’s illness prompted city officials to shut down the project last May, said Max Sklar, director of the city’s Tourism and Cultural Development.

Later this year, Miami Beach will ask artists to find other ways to hide the boxes.