Nina Johnson is both the owner of Gallery Diet, one of Wynwood’s must-see cultural hotspots, and a founding member of Women of Wynwood, a 2-year-old organization that employs women in the area to keep the neighborhood spic and span.
Johnson was first fully introduced to Wynwood before midtown was built, as an intern with Bernice Steinbaum at 15. Four years ago, she opened Gallery Diet on NW 2nd Avenue in the heart of a burgeoning arts district. “The transformation is enormous,” she noted.
This is thanks in part to WOW, a dedicated group of philanthropists who joined forces to raise money, employing six women from the Lotus House women’s shelter with a three month pilot program to maintain the streets. “What we realized when we had these part time employees was that even though they are transitioning out of homelessness... they needed full time employment.” Johnson said. Many of the women at the shelter had lost custody of their children or didn’t have the ability to find stable housing and they had to show that they worked 40 hours a week.
Glendina and Shantina were the two selected to keep Wynwood tidy. You might see them around the neighborhood in their bright pink uniforms. One of two lost custody of her daughter and thanks to the services she provides and the wages she receives, her child is back in her care.
“Wynwood gets pretty dirty and the city doesn’t clean it. Coral Gables has a street cleaning team that comes around at four in the morning when you’re sleeping and picks everything up.” Johnson said, “Here, we don’t have that." She added about the women, "They’re a cheerful presence on the streets.”
A grant from The City of Miami to the Wynwood Art District Association funded this project. It will not be renewed, so WOW held a fundraiser Thursday night at Johnson’s husband Dan Milewski’s bar and coffee shop Lester’s to auction original art and cool experiences like a pizza party at Joey’s or a private tour of the Rubell Family Collection.
As a result of galleries opening, and places like Lester's, there’s much foot traffic in Wynwood these days, even not on Second Saturday art walks. “I had someone coming in the other day from a magazine in Paris wanting to write an article.” No doubt this indicates that Wynwood is coming up, and the beautification provided by the two women of Wynwood is a key element in that process. These days, “there’s more of a community feeling.” People run into each other, all interested in the same thing: the arts. “You don’t get that a lot in Miami,” Johnson said.
“What’s most valuable is the fact that we have space that is unbothered, untouched, there’s no red tape,” She can do things like host performances without worrying guests’ cars will be plastered with tickets. Galley Diet had a slew of upcoming events that will be bringing new people into the community. On October 2 and 3, Clifford Owens who is slated for a solo show at MOMA PS1 and is in town on a de la Cruz residency, will be shooting photographs with an audience at her space. Also, next month, Diet will be exhibiting Bhakti Baxter’s first solo show in four years and putting out a ten year monograph of the exhibition.
With all the art and love they put into the neightborhood, Women on Wynwood isn’t trying to gentrify an area by driving the people who live there out. “If you can bring every up with you, it’s a must better system,” Johnson assured.
WOW is looking to cover the costs of the ladies’ salaries. Visit womenofwynwood.org to see how you can offer support.