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Can West Palm Beach outdoor art show turn downtown into new Wynwood?

Downtown show expands in second year, and hopes to turn city into international art hub.

Last year, West Palm Beach residents weren’t sure what to expect from the CANVAS Outdoor Museum Show, which sent artists around town, painting murals on buildings and even under the Royal Park Bridge.

Would it be street artists wielding cans of spray paint?

Yes, as well as something much more.

The global group of artists gathered by area art dealer Nicole Henry last year transformed public spaces into beautiful, sometimes witty, even provocative outdoor canvases that stretched the perception of what public art can be.

This year, CANVAS is back, with a larger mission: Starting on Nov. 11, 15 artists will spend weeks creating permanent structures in downtown pocket parks on Flagler Drive, between Second and Fifth streets.

In addition, a Florida-based group will create art on shipping containers in the Northwood neighborhood.

“We’re bringing museum-quality art to public places,” said Henry last week, taking a momentary breather from the logistics of planning an art show, much of whose art hasn’t yet been created.

Artists this year include Astro, from Paris, who plays with depth perspective, and Case Ma’Claim, an East German photorealist. Returnees include Hula, the Hawaiian artist who created the painting of a woman who appears to hold up the Royal Park Bridge; Wrdsmth, the Los Angeles-based writer and artist who “tattoos” walls with typewriters and pithy sayings and London-based Zeus, who is creating a street-sized Monopoly board called Streetopoly that will connect various spots along the downtown waterfront.

“These are artists who have done big installations elsewhere,” said Henry. “They’re not just good technically, but they’re able to make art that connects to people.”

That last ability is the key.

The theme of this year’s CANVAS show is connection. Each piece has to address the idea of connection in a creative and innovative way.

One artist is making a classroom with a chalkboard where people can write their definitions of “connection.”

Several of the pieces, including large interactive letters reading “Be Art” by Laura Kimpton, will remain in West Palm Beach, said Henry, creating a new international reputation for the city.

The Miami native likes to call it a blend of Miami’s Wynwood and Manhattan’s SoHo with a touch of Brooklyn’s offbeat artisanal qualities.

“West Palm Beach will become the next international art hub,” says Henry, who recently moved her downtown gallery while also curating the collections of wealthy art lovers. “It’s both urban and tropical, which is a huge draw.”

It doesn’t hurt that the show’s timing serves as a lead-in to Miami’s Art Basel art fair which begins Dec. 1.

Public art creates a sense of place nothing else can, says Raphael Clemente, executive director of the city’s Downtown Development Authority.

“These things will become landmarks,” said Clemente. “They’ll be iconic pieces for our city that will be photographed over and over again. What attracts people to a place are these cues and markers that say to people ‘this is a special place’.”

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