Jennifer Quintero: Miami as Text

Jennifer Quintero where she is happiest, Everglades, 2020

Jennifer Quintero is a Junior at Florida International University currently majoring in Sustainability and the Environment and Public Administration with the goal of working in the public sector as an environmental educator and policy maker. Between studying full time and participating in extracurriculars, she works part-time for Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation as an environmental educator. During the semester she also works as a naturalist on campus giving tours and leading volunteers on the university’s nature preserve all in the hopes of encouraging a culture of sustainability. When not working she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and learning all there is to know about the outdoors.

Deering as Text

“The Classroom Inside the Hidden Gem”

by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram at the @DeeringEstate, 13th September 2020

The Stone House Gallery. Photo taken by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

My first impression of the Deering Estate was: “Wow, that’s a lot of kids.” Granted I was there for an interview to become an educator while Deering was in the midst of hosting its annual summer camp, so definitely not a typical circumstance. One interview, some bureaucracy, and a phone call later and I found myself as the youngest member in the Learning Department. Now the Deering Estate has a lot of things: a museum, a park, a nature preserve…but its main function is actually that of a classroom. No one goes to the Deering Estate and leaves without learning something, especially me. In the past year of my employment there, I have found myself in each of its ecosystems gawking at the vast biodiversity that hides right along the edge of a mega populated city. I’ve had the privilege of going into its archeological sites and seeing fossilized dire wolf teeth for myself (better perks than any other job I’ve had I’m sure).

Raccoon teeth found on a hike through the Cutler Creek. Photo taken by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

The most wonderful thing I’ve had the pleasure of seeing though, is people leaving with something that they didn’t know before. I’ve taken people of all ages through the houses and the hikes, but I think the kids are my favorite because they see the extraordinary in the smallest things. One of my favorite experiences though is when I lead them into the gallery and tell them all to lay down on the floor and look up: The first thing they do is grumble, then they notice the chandeliers, but finally they really look up at all the golden tiles on the ceiling and inside each one they find plants and animals. Nature influences art and vice versa. Deering is one of the places where this bridge is strongly made. This is also where the nature of Charles Deering really shines, he wasn’t just an art collector after all, he was an early preservationist and a lover of nature. The Deering Estate is a place where people can be surprised at how much they didn’t know, from college students like me, to kindergarteners, to seniors, and learn to see nature (and Miami) from a different perspective.

The ceiling of the Stone House gallery. Images taken by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

SoBe as Text

“The City That Sits Upon the Sea”

by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram at South Beach, 23rd September 2020

Natural dunes in South Point Park. Images taken by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

The pastels and the lights

In this city at night

would never give it away…

This resort stay, had so much to say

You only had to open your eyes. 

This is a city that rose from the sea

It turned one day and said to me:

“Even the buildings have character”. Images taken by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

“This is a place of history 

Where you and I can feel free

Where rainbows fly and people sing 

Where diversity reigns kings

We have food and we have spice

But our history is not so nice…”

“Preservationist: Like Recognizes Like”. Images taken by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

“We were built upon a shallow bay 

Where fish and birds all came to stay

dredged out the home they had created 

Saw this beautiful land and manipulated

The narrative, so you would think 

This home to natives was on the brink 

of empty desolation.

But you’d be quite mistaken…”

“On Miami’s shore there were people:

The Tequesta who called this place home.

Then came the Spaniards, who looked all around them

And acted like this land was unknown. 

Before their burial site, stood a barrier island

That was protecting the inland from storm

To a “pioneer” Fisher, it was song of a siren

And his ideas started to form”

“The city became a vacationers dream,

but the people who built it were pushed to the seams

They were not allowed to relish in what they created. 

This is the history of SoBe that goes unstated”

“How a city looms”. Images taken by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0).

But just because this history isn’t pure, 

doesn’t mean that you should be unsure 

about enjoying what makes SoBe grand

Beautiful buildings and soft white sand 

A place where pride flags fly free

The city that sits upon the sea. 

The city from the pier. Images taken by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

Bakehouse as Text

“Molding More Than Clay”

by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram @theBakehouseArtComplex

Reef forms in clay. Images taken by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

Right off the coast of Miami Beach is another city. This one isn’t as flashy and if you look out while you’re on the beach sun tanning, you might never even know it’s there. This city, and those like it, are home to a quarter of all life in the big blue and affect us in more ways than we know. The South Florida Reef Tract is many things, a barrier for oncoming storms, a host to biodiversity, and a provider of food and new medicines. This relationship is not one sided though, we also affect the coral reefs in many ways. From dredging to climate change to nutrient run off, we put corals through a lot. I don’t think we do it on purpose, but we fail to be aware of it and as a result, cause more harm than good. It is because of this that becoming aware is the first important step in making a difference in this issue and many others.

The big picture. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

ARTivism is the bridge between people and social issues. At the Bakehouse Art Complex, artist Lauren Shapiro is creating Future Pacific: a bridge between people and science. The project is more than just an art piece, it’s a way to engage the community. We got the chance to sit with the artist and talk about the importance of coral reefs and ways we could reduce our impact on the environment all while using clay to mold coral reefs textures and forms. When people are given the chance to do something like this, they’re given more than just the opportunity to mold clay. They’re given the chance to mold the future of the environment and the world. 

Its in your hands. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

Rubell as Text

“Eliciting a Reaction”

by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram @RubellMuseum

They’re like me! Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

Contemporary art is supposed to comment on the world and start a conversation. That’s what we were told as we walked through the galleries of the Rubell Museum. While I was there, not much was said aloud between our small group, but there was certainly a conversation going on within myself. Browsing through the artwork, I had some pretty strong opinions, and not all of them good. This was pretty conflicting. On one hand I wanted to appreciate ALL of the art, but on the other hand…I saw a neon orange square of popcorn ceiling and a guy photographed with a pig.

Painting or advertisement? Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

Still, as my blood boiled at these, I realized that this was the point. The art was eliciting a reaction out of me whether I liked it or not. Yes, some of it made me think: “it’s just a bunch of rich people giving social commentary on things they don’t deal with themselves” laced with “you’re missing the point if you just ascribe this to shallow pretentiousness,” but some of it filled me with emotions that were closer to catharsis. Seeing Karon Davis’ sculptures, Kehinde Wileys’ painting, and Keith Haring’s work…I was filled with a certain sadness and awe.

Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)
Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

They were like looking through a window at someone else’s reality and seeing the difference in each other’s perspectives. In a way, you knew those differences were always there, but through art they’re made apparent and you are forced to face them. They felt genuine in their expressions about our society and ascribed beauty to them. The Rubell Museum in this way felt like a place that said “art isn’t just for rich white dudes to peruse, its a place where bridges between people are made and conversations can start”.

Deering Hike as Text

“Bulldozed, Filled in, and Washed Away: Miami’s History is Underneath Our Feet”

by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram @DeeringEstate

In our element. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

“In Rome you can touch the Colosseum and know that a millennia ago, another human being carved it,” (John Bailly, 2020). Hiking through the Deering Estate, you don’t find a Colosseum, but you do find an equivalent. In the form of the environment, you can find that there is another museum not contained inside the two historic houses. This one is much buggier, more humid, and just as beautiful. Our hike at Deering gave us a look at the hidden history of Miami, one of the Tequesta and the real Old Cutler Road that they once traveled. While at Deering, we walked on this road and got the opportunity to take a look at what the Tequesta left behind from a myriad of tools to one of their Burial Mounds.

Tequesta tool, so cool! Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

It’s cathartic to think about what lives they led in these ecosystems and how they interacted with them. Learning about how they utilized the plants and animals around, whether its as medicine or tools, makes it more concrete that the environment around us shapes our cultures and connects us. We have severed this connection however. We have cut down the pine rocklands they called home, drained the tropical hardwood hammocks life flourished in, and bulldozed the mangroves that kept the land safe. We have essentially buried our geological heritage underneath our feet. Deering is a time capsule in this sense, its what the Spanish saw when they got here, it’s what we should feel connected to just as much as the Art Deco in Miami Beach. These narratives aren’t separate from one another, they both make up Miami. After all, a plane sits rotting away in the mangroves of the Deering Estate. An old freshwater pipeline runs through it. There’s railroad spikes on the road the Tequesta’s walked. There’s history underneath our feet that connects us, we just need to recognize it.

A plane sits in the mangroves, waiting to be discovered. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)