Politics, Village Life, Work

David Collins RIP. A Part of the Old Grove is Gone

On Monday, August 14, after a months-long struggle with heart disease, David Collins died at the home in Center Grove he had shared for 26 years with his wife Trina. It was one week short of their 53rd wedding anniversary.
The Collinses came to Coconut Grove from Philadelphia in 1997. It was a time when Coconut Grove was much more like a village than it is now. They brought with them an appreciation of art, music, and dance and a taste for new adventures. Theirs was a spirit of community and creativity that they readily shared with friends and neighbors in the Grove.
Their Coconut Grove house is a modest bungalow in the 3200 block of Gifford Lane. When they arrived, the street was different from what it is now. The glorious canopy of trees was there, but so were several other bungalows that have since been replaced by large duplexes. The Grove was a lot more affordable then. Their neighbors included painters, writers, and musicians.
There were so many artists in the neighborhood that it didn’t take long for the Collinses to come up with the idea of an exhibition of artwork on Gifford Lane. One day in 1998, they and their neighbors set up easels and displays on the street and invited everyone in the Grove to come to the party. They had no permit, no permission from the authorities, nothing official. But a lot of people came and enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere. The proceeds of sales went to two charities, the St. Albans Early Childhood Center in the West Grove and the St. Stephen’s Church AIDS Ministry. That first year it was a few hundred dollars.
Eventually they called the event the Gifford Lane Art Stroll. Taking place the first Sunday in March, it became a true collaboration of neighbors and a Coconut Grove signature event. Now, as then, residents of Gifford Lane and nearby blocks begin planning it two months in advance in potluck meetings that rotate among their homes. For the day of the event, groups of neighbors hang flags and banners on the street and monitor artists and craftspeople coming to sell their wares. All the work is done by volunteers. In 2023, the Stroll celebrated its 25th anniversary. Several thousand people attended, and the organizers were able to donate $9,000 to the same two charities they’d chosen at the beginning.
David Collins’s story is completely intertwined with his wife’s. They shared a loving partnership that started when they first met at the University of Arkansas in 1970. David was studying for a master’s in English, and Trina was in the dance program, specializing in modern dance and choreography. When the school announced a production of Shakespeare’s “Tempest,” Trina went to audition. So did David. She was studying directing and had chosen a play by Federico Garcia Lorca with a character who represented the moon. “I thought that big guy over there looks like he’d be a good moon,” she recalls. “So I went up to ask him if he would be in my production. He said yes. When we looked at each other we just fell in love.” They were married a year later at the home of Trina’s parents in Fayetteville, Ark.
Their first home was in Chicago. After several years they moved to a small woman’s college in Pennsylvania, where Trina taught dance. By that time she had also started a dance company called Danceteller. David was the impresario. He arranged bookings, developed publicity campaigns, and managed the company’s business. “I couldn’t have done it without him,” says Trina. Danceteller performed throughout the Northeast, then the entire U.S., and even toured to Russia, Scotland, and Argentina. For the Collinses, it was a heady, busy time.
After many years of this, Trina says, she was ready to move on. “I felt I would dance as long as I wanted and then we would do what David wanted,” she says. “He was very unselfish. He said, ‘Well, where would you like to go?’ I said, ‘A tropical island.’ We went to the Florida keys, then Miami.”
In Miami, working closely with his brother, who ran a store in Philadelphia that sold art and artifacts from Africa, David opened a similar store, Out of Africa, in the Mayfair shopping center. Increasingly, David got involved in the ongoing life and evolution of Center Grove. He joined the Coconut Grove Village Council and served for 10 years. He founded a Coconut Grove merchants group and then headed a committee to launch a business improvement district. In 2009, David became the first executive director of the new Coconut Grove Business Improvement District and Trina took over as manager of the store, which stayed in business until 2014. David went on to help launch business improvement districts in Wynwood and Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. He continued working as a consultant for local business groups until his death.
Along with many others who lived in the Grove decades ago, Trina has warm memories of that time. “The Grove was this artsy, free spirit place,” she says. “We had gallery walks once a month, with artists and music on the streets. It was great.” In cooperation with The Barnacle, David also helped to launch the wacky Mad Hatter Arts Festival. The BID sponsored tree lighting, musical performances, and, for Christmas, caroling and a barbershop quartet.
“He worked equally well with the merchants and the politicians,” says Trina. “He was always thinking of ways to make this a better place to live.”
A proclamation honoring David Collins will be made at the September 14 meeting of the Miami City Commission. Also, two trees will be planted in Regatta Park to honor him.

Numerous friends, neighbors and colleagues have contributed personal statements and memories of David Collins. They include Miami City Manager Art Noriega, former District 2 Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, people who helped to organize the Gifford Lane Art Stroll, and many others. To view a document with their statements, click here.

Spotlight editor Hank Sanchez-Resnik lives on Gifford Lane. He has been closely involved with the Gifford Lane Art Stroll since 2013.


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