Trio of Women Artists Create Public Art Installations around Miami Design District

Written By Josie Gulliksen
April 5, 2024 at 2:15 PM

Allegory of Florida in Jade Alley, by Nina Surel. Photo courtesy Miami Design District.

Three women artists – Nina Surel, Joyce Billet and Jillian Mayer – who all came together for a 2023 exhibition in the Miami Design District during Women’s History Month are back showcasing their work in the District.

“That’s what ties all three artists together,” said Karen Grimson, Miami Design District director of cultural programming. “We got to know their work in that [earlier] exhibition and it inspired us to choose them for these public installations. All three women have magnetic personalities.”

Mayer is an up-and-coming figure and hers is a site-specific commission by Craig Robins’ DACRA, responsible for the creation and transformation of the Miami Design District as it is today. Billet’s is a residency in a vacant storefront in the District, while Surel, who spearheads the Collective62 art space in Liberty City, created a piece on a wall.

“Joyce is a peculiar hybrid of the architecture and art world; she needed the space to build her upcoming commission in New York City. Here, you are seeing the artist process as you come in, it’s kind of an unveiling of the space where the creative work happens,” said Grimson. “This peculiar scenario of a storefront meets artist studio works well with us because the public can stop in and chat with her.”

The goal was to bring the trio of artists and their communities into the District and keep it relevant in the art world. These installments, says Grimson, “keep the District friendly toward artists so we are more than just luxury brands, it keeps us welcoming to the artists community.”

Artburst Miami chatted with all three artists, inquiring about their process and their role in keeping arts in the Miami Design District community/neighborhood.

Nina Surel in front of Allegory of Florida, installed in the Miami Design District. Photo courtesy Miami Design District.

Nina Surel – “An Allegory of Florida”
A multi-part ceramic mural at 176 NE 41st St. in Jade Alley

Tell us when you began the piece and how long it took to complete.

I’ve been considering the idea of moving into a larger scale since I started to work with high fire ceramic a while ago. This medium allowed me to consider moving into larger scale murals. Last year I applied to the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs (MIA) Grant Program. This grant provides awards to individual artists of all disciplines in Miami-Dade County to nurture their artistic development and practice, and by the time they announced I was one of the winners I was already enlarging and vectorizing images to final scale. I completed the first 30 out of the 304 pieces during the first month of production. Then, Anthony Spinello, (Spinello Project Miami, Fl) invited me to show the mural at my first Solo Show with his gallery in September.

What was your process in creating this piece, did you have a team helping you in any way?

I had help from two other artists, us wedging and shaping 3,000 pounds of heavy grog stoneware ceramic during the summer, followed by two months of nonstop firings getting the kiln into the 2,160°F required, for over 20 hours. Last year was the perfect time for me to connect with the local community, inviting ceramists to join as well. I was able to produce and complete the entire mural in my studio in Liberty City in four months.

What was the inspiration behind the installation?

In “An Allegory of Florida” I convey the idea of Florida as a fertile and young land, like Lady Heron, one of the main characters in the mural that represents the role that women have in making the planet more livable; the need to ensure a more comprehensive and less binary world; and to learn both to inhabit the world, ensuring relations of solidarity and the feminist desire to recuperate matriarchal cultures as well as the ritualistic homage to a universally generic, feminine earth. I also depict seeds as an analogy for the people that have settled themselves and flourished, featuring forms and native seeds to the State, such as Coontie, Florida Beautyberry, Seagrape, and Cocoplum. Fostering relations of solidarity and interdependence among diverse beings.

Did the location of the piece play into its creation?

I couldn’t have dreamt of a better site for this mural than the Court at Jade Alley in the Miami Design District, integrating new and existing buildings with the parabolic concrete walls and the brick wall patina with visible signs of aging, together with the stoneware ceramic pieces and cobblestone pavers declares these objects have history.

What do you want passersby to experience while viewing/engaging with the piece and what takeaways?

Being invited to show in the Design District allowed me to understand my practice from a different perspective. It is a unique opportunity to share my practice with a wider audience. I love to stop by when people are at the Court, paying attention to details, reinterpreting the narrative, listening to birds chirping or just taking a selfie.

Artist Joyce Billet in her residency studio in the Design District. Photo courtesy Miami Design District.

Joyce Billet – “Into the Woods” Residency Showcase
56 NE 40 St.

What is unique about your residency?

The Miami Design District residency is unique in that it is both an exhibition and atelier space, meaning that I can make and show work on-site at the same time – people receive a more comprehensive introduction to my process this way. The space itself is also street-facing with some foot traffic, so I’ve been able to meet and interact with
passersby who may not otherwise become familiar with the work.

Can you describe your exhibition “Into the Woods”?

“Into the Woods,” the exhibition is a survey of my studio practice over the years. The evolution of my work is evident throughout the different series and techniques present in the space, which I feel has given people more context to not only the work but to who I am as an artist. Central to my practice is a desire to foster conversations about how humanity can coexist with nature while embracing new technologies and ways of artmaking. My background in architecture has encouraged me to play with materials to mix the natural with the man-made. With my hands and tools, I adhere to a strong craft tradition, employing plywood as my main material and challenging the trajectory the material has undergone in the process.

What has this residency meant to you and what opportunities has it presented to you?

My studio practice is always expanding as I aim to go large-scale with public art projects and this experience has been an amazing opportunity to get feedback from the public about what they might like to see in their communities. Throughout the residency, I have been working on very large-scale commissions that would not have been possible without having a studio of this scale. Nature is ever-present in my artwork as well as throughout the space, as plants are integrated elements in many of my sculptures. For instance, this space has allowed me to finally show a prototype for the “Woven” project that I am collaborating with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden on. The idea behind “Woven” is to create a living sculpture, with native species propagated directly onto the surface of the artwork.

In an effort to activate the space, I have been hosting events like salon nights for artists, PRATT alumni events, artist talks, and workshops. I feel so fortunate to be able to recontextualize my work throughout this residency and the Miami Design District is such an ideal location to do so.

Glass Model Home by Jillian Mayer. Photo courtesy Miami Design District.


When did you begin creating the piece and when did you complete it?

I had been in talks with creative producer Katerina Llanes about a large glass installation that included an architectural space for creative events. She suggested that I reach out to the Miami Design District, headed by curator Karen Grimson because of their openness to larger ideas. Karen and I had been in talks about a few potential projects and then she had Stardust Pavilion arrive in the Design District in December 2023. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to do a site-specific project for it so I pitched.

What was your process in creating this piece, did you have a team helping you in any way?

I have friends who help me with the heavy crazy stuff but many of my normal teams were tired from Basel. Every project is different, and the demands change all the time. When making a project for Port Miami three years ago, I dove into the glass forming under the expertise of artist Jenna Effrin. Bakehouse and the University of Miami were vital in this project as well as any other glass sculptures of mine getting finished.

What was the inspiration behind the installation?

A few years ago, I went to the Eames Case Study House in Los Angeles, an architectural prompt for many American designers post-war with available materials of the time. “Glass Model Home” is a conceptual living space for a post-physical world. With more of our work and practical matters executed in digital realms, what remains of physical life is freed from utilitarian obligations and can focus on aesthetic concerns. My solution imagines free floating recycled fused glass and metal forms as minimally invasive portals to the digital, refracting light and data alike; abstract furniture supports the body while the mind is infinitely virtual. Encased in a glass jewel box in public, the binaries of interior/ exterior, public/private, and digital/physical are increasingly complicated by recursive layers of varying absorptive, diffusive, and transmissive properties determined by material choices.

Did the location of the piece play into its creation?

As it sits in a commercial area with the installation visible from all angles, the ability to hide and be exposed unknowingly is of much interest to me. When surfaces reflect, there is nowhere to have privacy or a behind-the-scenes.

What do you want passersby to experience while viewing/engaging with the piece and what takeaways?

Anytime a person can lose themselves for a minute when experiencing something out of the norm- that is a win for me. Only recently have I been making things that are “pretty” post-COVID, I tried to go the Niki Saint Phalle approach to joy after seeing so much sadness. It was hard at first, but it ended up becoming pretty intoxicating.

Although all the pieces are temporary, all the pieces and future public art installations in the District “are about the consistency of the art and building on the season of Miami and keeping it fresh. The hope is to do this every month, unveiling new pieces or spaces year-round,” said Grimson.

From the beginning, the district has always made space for artists and they will continue to carve out corners for them, said Grimson.

Visit the Miami Design District Public Art website to find the extensive public art installations throughout the neighborhood. is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music, and more. Don’t miss a story at

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