Art is revealing Opa-locka’s full potential as an affordable place to call home | Guest Opinion

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November 30, 2022

During this 20th anniversary of Art Basel Miami Beach, we ask that you indulge in the “Art of Transformation,” our organization’s world-class Art Basel 2022 program taking place in the heart of Opa-locka.

Opa-locka? Yes!

“Aren’t you an affordable housing developer?” Yes!

“What does fine art have to do with your mission?”

Absolutely everything.

Indeed, through the “Art of Transformation” we are re-imagining and re-purposing previously blighted, neglected and overlooked spaces in Opa-locka to show their true potential and, by doing so, transforming how people view them. And we are doing it in the most authentic way possible — by bringing the art, the food, and the culture of Africa and the African Diaspora to the residents of South Florida and to the thousands of visitors who flock to our community for this premier art event.

At the “Art of Transformation,” our audiences will enjoy free access to the art of African masters such as Abdoulaye Konaté from Mali, whose colossal tapestries resemble cloth paintings, and Barthélémy Toguo from Cameroon, whose delicate works address enduring and relevant issues of borders, exile and displacement. Our audiences will see the stunning black-and-white photographs of rising star Angele Etoundi Essamba, originally from Cameroon. Essamba’s images, shown in our partner Maison AfriKin’s tent, are part of a exhibit curated by Alfonso Brooks and described by the artist as a “portrayal of womankind” — portraits of African women “beyond stereotypes.”

Also on exhibit are the works of Haitian masters, curated by Jean-Jacques Stephen Alexis, the son of the great Haitian writer Jacques Stephen Alexis, who, on the 100th anniversary of his father’s death, has built an exhibition around the elder Alexis’ love letter to humankind, “A Beautiful Human Love.”

There will also be an educational component to our exhibitions, with programs running every day of the fair, including “African Becoming,” 11 a.m.-noon Dec. 3.

We are re-purposing Opa-locka’s historic Train Station as Café Afrique, open to the public, with Chef Jodhan preparing sumptuous and affordable dinners.

We will bring the festivities to an end with a day of art, music and culture, on Dec. 4, as we close off the streets downtown around Ali Baba Avenue and Opa-locka Boulevard, with entertainment that will run the gamut from gospel music to live performances by locals Lavie, Ronnie VOP, Gia Wyre, Queen K, Chadwrick, Otis Kemp and Angee Griffin, national artists Eric Roberson and Shifta, together with two local celebrity DJs, DJ Tillery James and D.J. Fly Guy, as well as activities for kids.

Why are we doing all of this? Because we are an affordable-housing nonprofit, a mission-driven developer determined to build wealth in under-resourced communities. We build wealth by significantly augmenting, not reducing, the existing affordable-housing stock. And we build wealth through creative placemaking — using arts and culture to write the future stories of places like Opa-locka, a city of 16,000 10 miles north of the city of Miami.

Opa-locka is an overlooked gem. It is a model of diversity — close to 55% Black and 40% Hispanic. It has the largest concentration of Moorish Revival architecture in the Western Hemisphere, with 20 of its buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition to its diversity, history and architecture, Opa-locka can still be made an affordable option for South Florida’s working families. It is calling to be transformed! So, why not transform it — even if only for a week — to expose its true potential?

Dr. Willie Logan is the president and CEO of the Ten North Group (formerly, Opa-locka Community Development Corporation, Inc. OLCDC)), an affordable housing developer and community builder.

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