A Conversation with CRAIG O”NEIL, The Man Behind the MIAMI MARINE STADIUM
By Lori Zimmer
The incredible Miami Marine Stadium once hosted exciting motorboat races, a floating stage for the likes of The Rolling Stones and Ray Charles, and a bevy of in-water entertainment, all with downtown Miami as the backdrop. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew left the architectural gem a shell of itself, and totally useless. As artists do, they found beauty in decay, and began hopping the abandoned stadium”s fences to paint. Fast forward twenty years later, and the stadium has come back into the spotlight, back into the public eye thanks to the hundreds of artists who have made the stadium their canvas.
Now, the city wants to revive the stadium, giving it a High Line-style once-over supported by the National Trust. But what will happen to the living art that has taken over its walls? That’s where Craig O’Neil comes in. O’Neil has single-handedly taken it upon himself to weave the work of graffiti artists over the last two decades into the permanent legacy of the stadium. Driven by passion, he has created the ARTHistory Mural Program, appointing world-renowned photorealistic stencil artist Logan Hicks as curator to invite a special group of street artists from around the world to come into the stadium legally to leave their mark. The project was documented, with prints of each piece sold to help support the stadium, and culminates with a special exhibition during Art Basel Miami–with no benefit to O’Neil other than for the simple purpose of honoring the artists that breathed life back into a fallen architectural icon.
Lori Zimmer: What was your first experience with the Miami Marine Stadium?
Craig O’Neill: My wife Charo and I found out about the stadium through an artist friend, David Olivera. David had posted some pictures of the stadium”s graffiti on Facebook. My wife and I went down to explore, finding a hole in the fence and explored the stadium, awestruck by the setting and the artwork, but ever watchful for the police.
LZ: How did the ARTHistory Mural project come to be?
CO: We had been following the news on the stadium”s restoration closely. During this time, 5Pointz in Long Island City was buffed. For a graffiti fan, that buff was a kick in the gut. We were worried that the stadium restoration would also lead to the destruction of the art because of misunderstandings between the developers and the artists, so we reached out to the foundation and presented an idea to use the unique nature of the urban art movement to engage advocates and donors. Urban art is worldwide, and there is this massive limited edition print market that could be used to raise funds. We met Don Worth & Rosa Lowinger from Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, presented the idea, and offered to fund it.
LZ: How do you think the mural project will affect the stadium”s legacy?
CO: The artists have helped expose a worldwide audience to the stadium, so the mural project has expanded the base, and through the pictures and video documentation that visibility has spread to more and more people. Most importantly though, there was a moment that happened solely because of Ian Kuali”i. Hillario Candella (the architect and co-founder of Friends of Miami Marine Stadium) was inspired by Ian”s mural to bring graffiti into the final plan for the stadium, covering parts of the ramps in stairs in graffiti-inspired decoration.
LZ: How did you choose the artists who participated?
CO: The ultimate guidance was choosing a wide collection of artists, whose work highlighted the many disciplines and styles of urban art. We wanted artists that are icons of their style. The curation was lead by Logan Hicks, who is an icon of stencil art. He brought together a diverse group, from the US, international, and right from Miami. The idea was to show those people and organizations connected to the effort the real value of the graffiti in the structure by exhibiting to them a varied collection of urban artists that they could connect with. Logan really nailed that mission.
LZ: What makes the marine stadium so special?
CO: What makes the marine stadium so special? Where else in the world can you walk through a modernist sculpture, that you can sit in, take in the natural beauty of the virgin Florida coastline, in a building that is naturally green, cool in the summer, covered in graffiti. The only way I can describe it is the feeling of being in a holy place, a place where you are enveloped in a strong energy greater than yourself. An electricity.
LZ: Now that the actual paint sessions are over, what”s next for the project?
CO: There is an exhibit during Art Basel Miami, where we showcase original work and multiples by the 23 artists that joined us for the mural project. Then, there is a print program, a limited edition release by each artists to help raise funds for the stadium restoration.
ARTHistory’s exhibition at Art Basel will bring the work of Abstrk, Axel Void, CRASH, Dabs and Myla, Doze Green, Elbow-Toe, Evoca1, HoxxoH, Ian Kuali’i, Joe Iurato, Jose Mertz, Logan Hicks, Luis Berros, Martha Cooper, Pixel Pancho, Reinier Gamboa, Risk, Ron English, Rone, Stinkfish, Tatiana Suarez, The London Police, Tristan Eaton, Miami Marine Stadium’s Street Art Exhibition, Dec. 1-7, 5 NW 36th St at N. Miami Ave.
Written by Lori Zimmer
Photography by Lori Zimmer
Design by Francesca Rimi
Miami Marine Stadium, Photography by Lori Zimmer