FIU Alum Discusses Gentrification, Activism and Art

As part of FIU’s Panther Alumni Week this year, Eddie Arroyo spoke to students about his connection between art and the changing communities of Miami. Camille Orquera/PantherNOW

Camille Orquera/Staff Writer 

Eddie Arroyo understands the power of activism through art. 

As part of FIU’s Panther Alumni Week this year, Arroyo came in to speak to Honors College students about the connection he has found between art and the changing communities of Miami. 

“Developers Survey: A Talk on Art and Community Activism” was hosted by Honors College professor John Bailly’s Art Society Conflict and Miami classes. 

Bailly taught Arroyo in his painting classes at FIU when Arroyo was a student of his. 

Arroyo received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting from FIU back in 2001. His work has been featured in many formats and was most recently included in the Whitney Biennial 2019 exhibition.

He began his discussion by showing the students a Japanese inspired painting he did in 1997 while as an undergrad.

He emphasized his fascination with the Edo Period in Japan, Japan in relation to Miami and the industrialization through westernization of Japan by the United States. 

Arroyo stated that as an artist, one must be “multifaceted” and be able to have different skills. This was when he discussed his time as an art journalist, in which he covered exhibitions, artists and work in the Miami art scene. 

Arroyo then explained his artistic shift into capturing the life and culture that existed in Little Haiti. 

Little Haiti is one of Miami’s most culturally rich neighborhoods. While being home to many Haitian and Caribbean immigrants, its deep history has allowed it to become an important art community in Miami. 

Over the years, Little Haiti is facing gentrification and the fear of losing the community’s culture. 

“Going through change doesn’t always mean growth,” Arroyo said, speaking of the gentrification and the development of buildings in Little Haiti. 

His fascination with capturing facades in Little Haiti over the years has meant his artwork has encapsulated the loss of art within the neighborhood. 

One example is his series of paintings of what once was the St. Gerard Botanica in Little Haiti. Named “5901 N.W. 2nd Ave Miami, Fl 33127,” Arroyo has shown that what once was a colorful neighborhood staple has been lost to new developments in the neighborhood. He has painted the building a total of  four times from 2015-2018. 

Throughout the talk, Eddie answered questions from the students on his work and what it represents for him as an artist on Wednesday, Feb. 5.

“Language is very important in work and what it represents,” said Arroyo. 

Arroyo discussed the harms of gentrification and the link it has with modern colonization. 

While showing his moments of activism in Little Haiti, Arroyo also took part in gentrification protests in New York City’s Chinatown neighborhood. The protest highlighted the New Museum and Whitney’s role in the gentrification of Chinatown, other downtown areas and the removal of a Whitney board of trustees member. 

Five days after the protest, Arroyo and the other artists requested that their work be removed from display at the Whitney Biennial in protest of the corrupt board member’s position at the museum. 

This is just one of the many ways Arroyo has used his art as a way to fight against the many injustices in the country. 

Arroyo said that one of his most important responsibilities as an artist is “taking his privilege and utilizing it” to give more power to activist movements. 

His work is meant to make people reflect and realize the dangers of modern development in relation to cultural centers. 

Arroyo ended the panel by saying that with gentrification, you lose the authenticity of culture and a location’s identity. 

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