Vivian Acosta: Art Service Project Fall 2020

STUDENT BIO

Photo by Anthony Velasquez CC BY 4.0

My name is Vivian Acosta, and I am a senior at Florida International University majoring in psychology. I have always been passionate about highlighting the importance of mental health and overall well-being. I volunteered at the Li’l Abner Foundation and this is how it went:

WHO

I volunteered in an organization called Li’l Abner Foundation, located in the City of Sweetwater. They are a non-profit institution that focuses on providing educational and recreational services for their community’s children. They offer several programs, including free after-school tutoring, Taekwondo, dance, and Archery. Their goal is to improve the community’s residents’ lives through accessible programs that enrich kids’ education and well-being.

The tutoring program is directed by a certified teacher with the assistance of volunteers from the FIU Honors College and Belen Jesuit Preparatory Highschool (The Li’l Abner Foundation). From Mondays to Thursdays, children from Sweetwater have the opportunity to receive free assistance with their studies and participate in recreational activities throughout the week. The Li’l Abner Foundation aims to improve the development of children through education and sports.

WHY

When I was little, I wanted to become a teacher when I grew up. I used to gather my stuffed animals, sit them on my bed, and “teach them” the ABCs and how to count. I would pretend my mirror was a board, and I used to write on it.

My interests shifted slightly over the years, and I am currently a psychology major; however, deep down, I still dream of teaching kids, helping them, and being someone who can impact their lives positively.

I’ve always been the kind of student who is afraid to ask questions, request clarification, and participate in class because when I was younger, I had negative experiences when doing so. That has made me self-conscious for the rest of my life. We underestimate the power of our words, especially how they affect the young ones. That’s why I felt so honored to work with them. I saw it as an opportunity to make their days a little easier, make them feel comfortable, and remind them that they can accomplish anything as long as they try. 

I have always been passionate about helping and making a positive change. I chose to major in psychology because I feel like mental health is often overlooked, and it fills me with joy to contribute to a person’s well-being.

When I came across this volunteering opportunity, it woke up little Vivian’s dream career. This opportunity coincided with my interests, passion, and desire to give back, so I decided to contact this non-profit organization.

HOW

This volunteering opportunity merged my childhood dream career and one of my aspirations in life, which is helping others and causing a positive impact on them. It was satisfying to assist a group of children and see that my help was not in vain. They learned the material, they had fun, and they seemed comfortable with me. It was such a memorable experience that I am now considering working with kids in the future.

Teaching someone something that he or she will use in their day-to-day lives in the future is amazing! Being able to help a child learn something that he or she was struggling with is a significant accomplishment for the child, and for me!

WHERE AND WHAT

I assisted children with their homework and studying material Mondays through Thursdays from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM. I would get there a couple of minutes early to greet the kids as they walked in. Between three to ten kids would come in—it depended on the day. I helped out children from different schools, grades, backgrounds, and abilities.

As the students got to the classroom, we would review what the homework was and started to work on it. Some students needed clarification only, others would frequently get stuck, and a couple of them did not understand the topics that their homework covered. I would sit with those who needed help the most and taught them the material they were struggling with. Then, I would walk around and supervise everybody’s work. Before turning something in or putting the homework away, I would also check to see if it was correct. I felt responsible for those kids’ learning and grades. I was determined to show the kids that even though something seemed difficult, they could overcome it and that they were smart enough to get good grades.

Throughout the tutoring session, we would also talk about how their days went, so they could feel like their teacher cared for them. I always tried to keep them motivated by reminding them of how bright they are and letting them know that they can do anything they set their minds to!

When

Summary

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

I had the opportunity to volunteer at an organization that focuses on helping the community’s underserved: the Li’l Abner Foundation. I got to give back by helping children with their schoolwork. Even though this organization assists the City of Sweetwater community’s needs, the programs are not exclusively for them: this organization welcomes any child who would like assistance with their homework. Many of these kids’ parents don’t speak English, so it’s difficult for them to help their kids with their homework. Also, in a time where most of the work is online, accessing online platforms could be challenging for anyone who isn’t familiar with working with computers.  A certified teacher, Ms. Hernandez, directs the afterschool tutoring program, and volunteers, like myself, assist her. Ms. Hernandez has tutored up to 23 students in a day, and it is difficult for her to tutor all of them by herself in a two-hour window. She is able to do it, but it would be better if there were more volunteers so each kid could get undivided attention. The organization could use more volunteers.

Kids’ early experiences in school set a foundation for the rest of their school years, so it is important for them to have a positive perspective towards education and develop healthy habits during the early years. Childhood is a crucial developmental stage in a human’s life. Whatever you teach a child, it will most likely stick with them for the rest of their lives. During childhood, we begin to make our own assumptions of the world, people, and how life works; therefore, I believe that kids should have a positive experience in school, a genuine relationship with their teachers, and they should learn more than just the basic curriculum. Qualities such as self-worth, values, and self-efficacy should also be instilled in them. As we turn into adults, these traits are easily destroyed, so we have to make sure they are ingrained in kids during childhood.

I was only there for a week, and I taught a girl who is in second grade how to add, I taught another girl how to divide, and I helped a boy learn the times table. They all came in with homework that they had no idea how to complete, and by the end of the week, they were able to complete it on their own! It was satisfying. One day, one of the girls started to pull out homework assignments that were due last semester, and I asked if she could still turn them in. To my surprise, she replied, “no, but I want you to teach me more, and I want us to read this story, and you can ask me questions!” at that moment, I knew I must have been doing something right.

The president of the organization, the coordinator, Ms. Hernandez, and the rest of the staff are incredibly kind and willing to help. They devote their time and energy to the programs offered at the Li’l Abner Foundation, and they are appreciative of their volunteers! I enjoyed volunteering with them.

References

Li’l Abner Foundation, http://www.lilabnerfoundation.com/.

Vivian Acosta: See Miami Project Fall 2020

De la Cruz Collection

Student Bio

Photo by Elena Osorio CC BY 4.0

My name is Vivian Acosta, and I am a senior at Florida International University majoring in psychology. I have always been passionate about highlighting the importance of mental health and overall well-being. After exploring different psychology areas, I discovered that helping organizations create a healthy environment for their employees is what I wish to devote my time into; therefore, I am specializing in industrial-organizational psychology.

I enjoy learning about different cultures, history, and societal issues. I believe that all of these topics merge through art. Feelings, fears, emotions, traumas, beliefs, and ideas are also expressed through art. I have seen on canvases what many can’t put into words–I find it fascinating to see visual representations of a variety of themes; therefore, I have recently added visiting museums to my list of hobbies.

Geography

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC by 4.0

The de la Cruz Collection is located in the Miami Design District, specifically at 23 Northeast 41st street. The museum counts with three spacious floors filled with beautiful art. From the outside, the museum is a large modern building with glass windows on its first floor. The building does not count with a sign to identifying the place from far; however, it does have a large black and white billboard of a small bird flying in an empty sky. This is a work by Felix Gonzalez- Torres, Untitled (Bird).

Many other art galleries are located in this luxurious area, including the Institute of Contemporary Art, which stands next to the de la Cruz Collection. The Design District is famous for its art, luxury stores, restaurants, and bars. The de la Cruz collection contributes to the sophistication of the zone. The pedestrian-friendly street in a neighborhood where art is appreciated seems like the perfect spot for this museum.

History

(Star Gazer, 1956 by Rufino Tamayo) Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

Rosa and Carlos lived in Spain for ten years. Then, in 1975 they moved back to the United States. They began to attend auctions to look at art, since this has always been their passion. Back then, buying art was not their priority since they had 5 children, which means they had numerous expenses such as their children’s education.

In 1988, they purchased their first artwork with their money in an auction. They acquired a painting by Rufino Tamayo, which Carlos really liked. Today, you can find this piece at the de la Cruz Collection.

Rosa and Carlos began to collect pieces for their house. They had the idea of collecting pieces by Latin American artists only; however, their collection changed direction when they obtained a work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres in 1992. Since then, they began to collect contemporary art from artists of different backgrounds.

As their collection grew, Rosa and Carlos began to invite people in their house. People were able to go to Rosa’s and Carlos’ home by appointment; however, at some point, they had approximately 2,000 people over, so, eventually, they had to look for an extension to their home. From 2001 to 2007, the de la Cruzs shared their collection at a new location: the Moore’s building.

In 2009, Rosa and Carlos opened the museum, or as they like to call it, space, or extension to their home, at its present location in Design District. This space is open to the public free of charge. This year’s exhibition was named after a light blue paper Felix Gonzales sent them in a letter along with a picture of the sky, “A Possible Horizon.” This name is ideal for the uncertain times we are currently experiencing. Carlos and Rosa would like to spread a message of Hope in such tough times.

Mission

The de la Cruz Collection’s mission is to share their collection with the public at no cost and to expose them to new ideas. The collection brings art to the community as an intellectual pursuit. The de la Cruz Collection also assists the community by providing the youth with education programs such as lectures and scholarships.

They also aim to make Miami known for its contemporary art.

Access

The museum opens from Tuesday through Saturday at 10:00 AM and closes at 4:00 PM. Admission is free for everyone. They offer guided tours at no cost. If you choose to explore the place on your own and have any questions, the staff will gladly help.

Admission in times of COVID-19: The museum is operating at a reduced capacity due to safety guidelines. Only 30 people can be in the museum at a time. Visitors must register at the entrance by scanning a QR code. They must then agree to terms and conditions, apply hand sanitizer, get their temperature taken, and, most importantly, wear a mask.

Collection

Salador Dalí

Portrait of Dolores Suero Falla, 1955
Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

One might not expect to see a classic painting in a contemporary art collection; however, this case is exceptional. This work is a portrait of Carlos de la Cruz’s mother, Dolores Suero Falla, painted by Salvador Dali in 1955.

Dolores Suero Falla never posed for her portrait. Instead, Dali captured her expressions and personality while having breakfast with her every morning for a couple of days. Seeing Dolores regularly was enough for him to capture every detail and transfer it to his canvas. Many people visit the museum searching for “the Dali,” a unique piece that embodies the de la Cruz’s family passion for art and reminds us of Dali’s virtuosity.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres

“Untitled” (31 Days of Bloodworks), 1991
Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

This piece consists of 31 gridded canvases with diagonal lines crossed from the top corner to the bottom corner. Through this piece, Felix Gonzalez-Torres relates a melancholic, personal story: the decline of his partner’s (Ross Laycock) health, the weakening of Ross’s body, and their decreasing time left together. This piece reminds us of how frail and vulnerable we all are. One day we can be at the top of the graph and suddenly begin to descend to our inevitable end.

“Untitled” (Last Light), 1993
Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

This exhibit utilizes a mundane object to narrate a profound reality. It involves a string of lit lights hanging from the ceiling. Even though a bulb’s light shines bright and it serves its purpose, to illuminate, its light will begin to dim down until it burns out–just like a person’s life. We live, we love, we serve our purpose, but our light will eventually burn out.

After a bulb burns out, someone can buy a new one at any store and replace the old light bulb. We are also replaceable, and when our light burns out, someone else might take our place, and the world will go on.

“Untitled (Last Light)” evokes nostalgic feelings. It touches on our mortality, loss of others, and the passing of time while reminding us that we are not indispensable.

Sterling Ruby

Head Trekkers + Gated Doors 2, 2010
Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

This work consists of spray-painted horizontal lines coming in and out of focus. At the center of the piece, two rows of skulls go down until they meet with a set of doors. This piece includes one of Sterling’s main themes, life in prison, and mediums, spray paint. His fascination with spray paint comes from graffiti paintings in the streets.

The skulls seem to disintegrate as they get closer to the doors. This could symbolize the psychological states that individuals experience while they are incarcerated and how their well-being declines with time. Sterling believes that the criminal justice system should be reformed, and he often mentions bail inequalities (delacruzcollection).

Special Programs

Travel

These programs aim to enrich students’ education through the first-hand experience of different cultures and art.

Design and Architecture Senior High (DASH):

-Forty students from DASH selected by their teachers travel to New York during summer every year. They participate in a three-week pre-college program at the School of Visual Arts and at Parsons School of Design: The New School. They receive college credit and have he opportunity to experience New York’s art and culture firsthand.

New World School of the Arts (NWSA):

Every year, the graduating BFA class travel abroad to Europe and visit places that are meaningful to art and history such as Venice, Florence, and Rome. Travel accommodations, new luggage, and per diem are given to the students.

Scholarships
In partnership with the Knight Foundation, the de la Cruz Collection has supported education programs such as scholarships.

-Architecture and industrial design students from DASH participate in an annual design competition to win awards ranging from $500 to $1500. All participants receive a monetary scholarship.

Workshops

Free summer workshops are offered for students between 7 and 18 years. Local artists teach the classes which focus on contemporary art practices.

Lectures

The de la Cruz Collection hosts lectures from artists, curators, and educators throughout the year.

Visitor

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

What do you like about the museum?
I liked the variety of works they have in here! They are all beautiful and unique. I like their taste in art.

What’s your favorite piece?
 

(“Untitled” Portrait of Dad by Felix Gonzalez-Torres) Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

I enjoyed several pieces for different reasons. One of them was “Untitled “Portrait of Dad by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. It’s so sweet of the artist to share his father’s favorite candy with the public in his memory. It’s bittersweet. I have a picture of my mother in my room, while Felix Gonzalez-Torres has a pile of candy that weighs 175lbs just like his father— two different scenarios, but our intentions are the same.

I also got very excited when I saw the first painting Carlos and Rosa purchased. “This is how it all started,” I thought. Years later, they own hundreds of pieces! It must be a really special work for them.

What’s something you learned today?
I learned that art has a voice. Through art, all kinds of messages can be shared. Many artworks narrated stories, other pieces expressed different perspectives, and others were open-ended. Some artworks were about the techniques the artists used, which made me imagine the process and admire the artists.

Do you visit museums often?
I have visited a couple of museums in the past; this one has been my favorite one so far.

Would you recommend this museum?
I would definitely recommend people to visit this museum. I would like to come back in the future. It is a fun experience—something different, fun, and meaningful to do.

Portrait

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

Ray Anthony-
My name is Ray Anthony, and I’m a photographer. I enjoy working here because I like art, and I enjoy listening to people’s perspectives, and I like to share mine as well, which is basically what I do here.

Can you tell me a little bit about the museum?
This museum is Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz’s private art collection. They invited people to their house and showed them their art there, but it began to get overcrowded. They built this 30,000 square feet museum to share their private collection with everyone. Nothing here is for sale.

Are the exhibitions temporary, or are they permanent?
The exhibitions change. We rotate pieces that they have collected over 30 years. Every once in a while, we get new pieces; however, we also have permanent pieces.

What’s your favorite art piece?
There are many pieces in here that I genuinely enjoy. This one here is very special *points at Untitled 31 Days of Blood works by Felix Gonzales-Torres*. The artist recorded his partner’s declining health for 31 days. On the back of the canvases are memories of the two, such as pictures and letters. I see it as a way for the artist to cope with his loved one’s death, but also a sign of his love.

Thank you Ray!
It’s my pleasure.

Summary

Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz do an excellent job of making their space welcoming. Ever since they started collecting, they have been content to share their art with the public. First, they opened the doors of their house to people who wanted to see their collection. Today, they have an extension to their home, and the access remains free. It is evident that they genuinely want to share their passion with others. They collect art to admire it, share it with the world, and spread new perspectives. They believe that art must be public; everyone should be able to enjoy art, learn from it, and feel inspired by it at no cost– and that’s precisely what they do at the De la Cruz Collection. Carlos’ and Rosa’s actions show how fond they are about art and how committed they are to giving back to the community. The museum has an explosion of colors, mediums, and styles that somehow look perfect together. Regardless of the diversity, everything matches perfectly, just like this city. While I was in the museum, I came across many pieces that evoked various emotions such as happiness, admiration, shock, and melancholy. This roller-coaster of reactions was thanks to the diverse artists and artworks that Rosa and Carlos have chosen for their collection. You can tell that they meticulously select their art. Aside from being beautiful, many of the pieces share strong stories, and others opened up my mind and challenged me. I felt like much of the art was interactive; I was never bored. After enjoying three floors filled with art, I only wanted to see more and more! Visiting this museum was a great experience.

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

The museum has a very convenient way of informing its visitors about the artworks displayed. There are Quick Response (QR) scan codes on the walls that can be scanned with any phone. When you scan the code, a pdf file will open up on your device with information about the exhibit and its artist. I found this extremely helpful. I felt like I got to see a fuller picture of the artwork in the museum. I learned about the different artists, their styles, and the themes they commonly use. When I got to the second floor, I was able to identify some artists’ works without looking them up since I became familiarized with their style! I was able to engage with the art on a deeper level. It was almost like I got to experience the exhibits’ full stories, not only the “front cover.”

Even though the Quick Response codes were very informative, they did not share insightful, personal perspectives, or curious details about the art like the knowledgeable staff did. They were all very friendly and welcoming. As I walked around the museum, I engaged in conversations with two different staff members. They were always around in case I had a question, which I always did! They were knowledgeable about the artists, the mediums used, and the pieces’ intent. They also knew about the “behind the scenes” of the installation process and the artworks’ meaning to the owners! I also got to share my perspectives on different artworks while the staff members also shared theirs. It was interesting to engage in conversations about art because we shared our viewpoints on so many topics in such little time! I definitely learned a lot and had fun at the same time.

The visitors’ experience is definitely a priority in this museum. The staff is welcoming, informative, and helpful. The de la Cruz Collection is my favorite museum for numerous reasons: I enjoyed their mission, the environment, and the unique artwork. I enjoyed my visit to the extension of Rosa and Carlos’ home, and I highly recommend this wonderful place.

References

De La Cruz Collection, http://www.delacruzcollection.org/.

delacruzcollection. De La Cruz Collection | Lecture with Sterling Ruby. 8 Apr. 2015, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IP8nnQAOsXY.

Vivian Acosta: Miami as Text

Photo by Anthony Velasquez CC BY 4.0

Vivian Acosta is a senior at Florida International University majoring in psychology. She has always been passionate about highlighting the importance of mental health and other’s well-being. After exploring different psychology areas, she discovered that helping organizations create a healthy environment for their employees is what she wanted to devote her time to; therefore, she is specializing in industrial-organizational psychology.
During her free time, she likes to spend quality time with her family and friends or playing sports. She also visits her home country, Honduras, often and plans to expand her vacation destinations.
Vivian enjoys learning about different cultures, history, and societal issues. She believes that all of these topics merge through art, so she decided to enroll in the Art Society and Conflict course thought by the French American artist John Bailly.
Below you can find Vivian’s reflections.

Deering As Text

Photos by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

“Pieces of Miami” By Vivian Acosta of FIU At Deering Estate on september 9th, 2020.

A hidden treasure is in Cutler Bay, treasuring unique gems: nature, art, architecture, and history. Undisturbed mangroves, trees, and animals guard the land, bodies, and remains of the Tequesta, one of Miami’s first inhabitants. In there, we get to see a different side of Miami, a lot simpler one. 

Charles Deering’s Spanish Villa, the Stone House, and his winter home, the Richmond Cottage, face Biscayne Bay. Manatees and fish visit the boat basin regularly—if I could, I would too—such a tranquil and breezy place. As I stood there, I paused and contemplated the view while the wind caressed my face. 

The Richmond Cottage was an inn about 100 years ago. Then, it became Charles’ self-sufficient winter home. The Richmond Cottage has a pioneer home design and is currently one of the oldest structures in Cutler bay (Historic Structures).

The Stone House is a three-story house with a Mediterranean revival design. The arched-shaped windows inspired by Islamic architecture give the place a dramatic yet elegant look. Throughout the house, I got to appreciate a diversity of adornments, designs, and architectural styles from all over the world: some contemporary and some historical ones.

A French gate hugged by vines and colorful flowers watch one of the rooms. The gate looked delicate and romantic; I could visualize Cinderella twirling in that room. I also got to cross Charles’ Chinese Bridge. This bridge allowed Charles to cross Cutler Creek. Unique art decorates the house, but my favorite piece was a mosaic made from pieces of Miami. Hundreds of small seashells, rocks, corals, sticks, and starfish assembled to form a unique shape decorate a ceiling. I never expected to see that above me. An Islamic design created by Afro-bohemian men on a Spanish Villa out of Miamian pieces. What an original work of art. It holds the essence of Miami: the diversity and rich culture that makes the city unique.

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

Even though there were various styles and designs within the house, they fit in perfectly—just like us, Miamians.  During my Deering Estate visit, I discovered a little more of Miami through its landscape, early architecture influence, and historical figures, which translated to the Miami we know today.

South Beach as Text

Photos by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

“The Beautiful and The Ugly” By Vivian Acosta of FIU at South Beach on September 23, 2020

About 100 years ago, South Beach was a barrier island enriched with mangroves, marine life, and mosquitoes. People occasionally visited to spend a day at the beach. This changed when Carl Fisher decided that the island covered with mangroves should become an independent city where tourists could visit regularly. Carl Fisher accomplished his vision, scaring the environment, and Bahamian workers, physically, emotionally, and historically. The same figures who cleared thousands of mangrove trees were eventually banned from the land they helped building. They were used. They couldn’t enjoy the results of their hard work. Fortunately, South Beach has evolved over the years. The city welcomes everyone, and anyone and differences are celebrated. The atmosphere encourages people to show their true selves. The festive atmosphere and vivacious people match the unique scenery.

Walking down Ocean Drive, I came across different architectural styles. Pastel-colored buildings, European-looking structures, and contemporary designs. The style that matched South Beach the most, without a doubt, was Art Deco. Warm hues, neon-lights, and unique structures. An authentic combination that sets a tropical yet lively mood.

A diverse color palette, unique geometric ornamentations, and asymmetrical buildings are connected by the buildings’ horizontal detailing, guiding one’s eyes down Ocean Drive. These buildings match the beach, the weather, and the people. South Beach has the world’s most extensive collection of Art Deco buildings, which were once in danger of being demolished. Developers wanted to destroy the buildings to then build contemporary structures. Years of history, rich heritage, and the cultural essence of South Beach could have been deliberately whipped out if it were not for a visionary, persistent woman, community activist, Barbara Capitman. Capitman brought together a group of like-minded, conscious people, and prevented that disaster from happening. Today, the city conserves the iconic architecture that characterizes South Beach.

I realized that many important details go unnoticed due to our lack of information. If we perceive something, and we are uninterested–  either because it doesn’t make sense, we don’t understand it, or it looks ordinary– our brains ignore it, which prevents us from fully appreciating our surroundings. Things don’t stand out until we learn what they are and what they mean. When we finally learn the symbolic representation of things, we begin to “unlock” details that we didn’t pick up before from our surroundings. I experienced this during our visit to South Beach. I have been to South Beach countless times, but how didn’t I notice the piano keys painted on the sidewalk of Lincoln Road before? They were just a pattern of black & white rectangles on the ground before Professor Bailly pointed out the architect’s intention. H&M never had a metallic sign with the words “Lincoln Theater” with neon lights, and I could have sworn the ziggurat roof and low relief decorations on the Guess store had just been added on that day. “Ocean Beach Park”—”a play of words” I thought.  WRONG! South Beach was originally called “Ocean Beach” before it was turned into the vacation destination it is today. This is a worthy detail of South Beach’s history that everyone should know. The numerous coconut trees decorating the city? They are remains from the Lum brothers’ failed coconut plantation. Just because we are looking does not mean we are noticing everything around us, and the more we learn, the more we open our eyes to the beauty and the ugly: the truth of our surroundings.

Bakehouse as Text

Photos by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

“One Change at a Time” by Vivian Acosta of FIU at Bakehouse on October 7th, 2020

Coral Reefs are beautiful structures under the ocean. They are home to millions of species, and they also protect our coastlines from storms. They are essential for the survival of many species, including ours. As rational beings, it should be common sense to protect them; however, we have been doing the opposite, and they are dying faster and faster. Irregular changes in their ecosystems’ temperature, pollution, and intentional removal of corals are just some causes of this species’ disappearance.

Scientists have highlighted this issue for a significant amount of time, but somehow, we overlook it and consciously keep on causing harm. Why do we insist on harming something so precious and vital? Perhaps the way the information is shared does not catch our attention, or we just fail to connect with the issue. Maybe if we all got to see the greatness of these structures, the unique and diverse fauna, and this ecosystem’s importance, we would have the drive to save them! Articles, news, and different initiatives worldwide are doing what they can to spread awareness on this issue, but nothing seems to change! We all need to come together to make a change, and for the majority of people to just ignore issues because it does not affect their present, it sparks a combination of frustration and helplessness in me.

Through Lauren Shapiro’s Future Pacific Project, I learned that change starts somewhere, and it does not happen overnight. My hopes went up, and I realized that we only control our actions and that sharing the message little by little adds up. Years of research, articles, news, and different projects have sparked initiatives little by little. These initiatives attract people from all around the world, who are willing to make a change, change that begins with the individual, and has a collective impact.

Future Pacific uses a unique technique to spread awareness of this issue. The project spreads science knowledge through the voice of art– a beautiful, creative, unique, subjective voice. The intended message, or the idea, is there, but everybody will perceive it in a unique, personal way, and that’s the beauty of it.

I had the unique opportunity of creating corals out of clay—this is part of Lauren Shapiro’s project. Some figures were small, while others were big, but what amazed me was the final result. Hundreds of coral forms made one by one added on to a huge coral mountain, just like those in the ocean. It was breathtaking. Helping create such structures ignited a unique connection and responsibility between me, the project, and the project’s intent: making a change to save the corals. I can say that I was part of the project, and now, that project is a part of me!

Rubell Museum as Text

Photos by Jennifer Quintero CC BY 4.0

“Appreciating the Unknown” by Vivian Acosta of FIU at the Rubell Museum on October 21st, 2020

The Rubell Museum is a contemporary art museum where Mr. and Mrs. Rubell’s precious art collection is shared with the public. Mr. and Mrs. Rubell have been collecting art for about 54 years. Their collection includes pieces by various artists with different styles; therefore, at their museum, you can encounter a diversity of works–from minimalistic canvases to breathtaking, realistic portraits. Contemporary art is unlike any other art style. There is a lot more freedom in the themes, mediums, and rules; therefore, this museum is filled with unique aesthetics, ideas, and experiences. 

The erroneous belief about art is that art should be aesthetically pleasing, but that is not necessarily what art is. Art is anything that one creates with the intent to express one’s ideas. Art is not mainly about aesthetics but about artists’ creativity when expressing their thoughts through their artwork. That is why, at times, many people fail to appreciate art, including myself– especially with a style that gives artists more freedom to express themselves like contemporary art. Some pieces’ intended message can be obvious, while others are open-ended or even unknown.

Mr. and Mrs. Rubell mentioned that they choose pieces that speak to them to add to their collection. Quite frankly, I did not understand what that meant. I realized that I was trying to understand art too hard. When visiting a museum, we should go in with an open mind. Things do not have to make sense necessarily. We have to appreciate the ambiguity, enjoy the experience, and allow ourselves to come up with our own interpretations. When you are able to engage with the art piece and enjoy the expression, that’s when the artwork speaks to you. If nothing of that happens, then move on to the next work, or simply stop trying to make sense of everything. Art is subjective—while one person can feel moved by an art piece, another person could think it’s boring. I realized that loosening up and being curious and open-minded was what I needed to experience the unknown.

Deering Hike as Text 

Photos by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

“Where it All Began” by Vivian Acosta of FIU at the Deering Hike on November 4th, 2020

Miles away from the city’s commotion rests a spot that preserves a piece of Miami’s history. A natural preserve protecting acres of nature, history, and beauty lies in Deering Estate. Pure fauna and flora take us back to enjoy what Miami’s ecosystem was like before conquerors, before industrialization, and before the city was in a rush. The vivid greenery covers the path that Native Americans, such as the Tequesta, and native species once walked in. Different shades of green guide the way in this vivid place. In this natural preserve, it is difficult not to get lost physically, but it’s easy to find inner peace, harmony, and become mindful. Without the unavoidable disturbances we face daily, getting in touch with nature, ourselves, and our past is inevitable. Visiting a place like this hidden gem allows us to create a connection with our history, a much simpler time, where it all began.

Walking in the natural preserve, you will encounter mangroves, tropical hardwood hammocks, the Miami Rock Ridge, solution holes, a crashed airplane, and the Tequesta mound. My favorite part in this hidden gem is a hidden treasure, the Tequesta burial mound. Approximately 12-18 Tequesta buried, and an approximately 500-year-old oak tree is growing over the mound. I like to believe that the tree protects the bodies of the Tequesta. In the past, mounds have been disrespectfully uncovered since they’re “in the way” of “developments.” Nowadays, superficial things are valued more than history, or perhaps this part of history is purposely ignored by some.

Native Americans deserve more respect and more recognition. They inhabited Miami before anyone else, and outsiders came and took over. After that, Native Americans were basically pushed out of their home. Our history is told from the conquerors’ perspective, leaving Natives out of the picture for the most part. History should be told exactly how it happened, not how it’s more convenient. Deering Estate highlights Miami’s pioneer inhabitants’ truth and protects and preserves their land, our land, a piece of Miami, the unbothered Miami.

Downtown Miami as Text

Photo1 by Vivian Acosta and Photo2 by Lorena Cuenca CC BY 4.0

“Hidden Historical Figures” By Vivian Acosta of FIU at Downtown Miami on November 25th, 2020

Our geographical ancestors used to settle in places where there was a source of water supply nearby. The Miami River was used by the Tequesta and other Native Americans. Many Tequesta settled near the mouth of this body of water. Today, the Miami River is highly polluted, and it is home to several businesses. The Tequesta left behind several mounds along the Miami River. However, none of them remain since they were in the way of developers’ plans. Only a handful of mounds have survived urbanization. I do not understand how something so significant to Miami’s history can be consciously destroyed. On the other hand, there are countless memorials, statues, and streets to commemorate conquerors and developers.

A little after Ponce de Leon’s arrival in Miami, Native Americans were pushed out of their land, and some of them died as a result of diseases brought by Europeans. Europeans “conquered” the land of the Tequesta; however, I would use a different choice of words when referring to stealing land and harming locals. The Tequesta’s history has been marginalized along with other Miami pioneers’.

Julia Tuttle, a Miamian businesswoman, noticed Miami’s potential in being a prosperous city, so she encouraged Henry Flagler to extend his railroad to here. Since then, Miami began to grow exponentially. I have always learned about Flagler, but the first time I heard Julia Tuttle’s name was recent. I never knew that it was a woman’s initiative to develop Miami. Instead, all the credit has been attributed to a wealthy man, Henry Flagler.

Fort Dallas is a historic structure located in Lummus Park, Downtown, Miami. This building served several purposes over the years, including Julia Tuttle’s property, a military base, and a slave porter. Slaves built many of Miami’s structures, and they were also taken advantage of, discriminated against, and dehumanized. This part of our history is not highlighted; however, centuries later, racist attitudes are still prevalent.

The stories about our history are carefully selected, so ideals remain consistent over the years; however, these modified stories do more harm than good– they reinforce negative perspectives. Native Americans, Slaves, and women in our history deserve more credit and appreciation than what they are receiving. The truth of Miami’s history should be told, and the sacrifices people made should be highlighted, not only the wins of the historical figures we hear of today. The losses people had in order for “powerful” men to achieve their ambitions should also be known.

Everglades as Text

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

“a Magical place” By Vivian Acosta of fiu at everglades national park on january 13th, 2021

Approximately an hour away from Downtown Miami’s commotion lies a parallel natural environment. The atmosphere is nothing like “current Miami’s,” but definitely like the one Miamian pioneers explored. You can find numerous ecosystems, habitats, animals, and organisms in the Everglades National Park. 1.5 million miles covered with sawgrass, pine trees, cypress trees, mangroves, and water. The park is inhabited by a diversity of birds and other animals including reptiles, and the Florida Panther.

Standing in the middle of a slough and being welcomed to wildlife’s habitat was a unique experience. It is human to feel scared, especially since we are so fond of being in control– in here, Mother Nature rules. Away from our hectic routines, unavoidable distractions, and rushed pace, time slows down a little, and one finally has the liberty to celebrate life—not only our lives but also the lives of the thousands of species populating the Everglades.  I rarely take a minute out of my day to admire the beauty in my surroundings, but in this River of Grass, it is inevitable not to notice. Thousands of creatures co-existing harmoniously. “Where is north? Where is south? What’s underneath?”, one wonders while being surrounded by tall grasses and trees.

Without my mind on what’s next on my to-do list and my phone blowing up, I got to acknowledge how magical nature is. How are we impressed by human-made objects, but not by other living things and how their environments work? Different, unique, natural systems contribute to nature’s collective wellbeing. Different species play unique and significant roles in their ecosystems! In the Everglades, algae and bacteria absorb contaminants to clean the water, similar to how we use filters to make water clean and safe to drink. I also found it interesting how tiny needles of cypress trees fall into the water, eventually decomposing, leaving acid behind: this eats away the limestone on the bottom, causing solution holes to deepen. These solution holes become home to alligators! It is incredible how nature works, how everything is connected, including us. However, this could be a double-edged sword; we have to be cautious because a small change could throw off nature’s incredible equilibrium. We have the power to destroy gems like this one, and with our selfish actions, we already are! Exposing ourselves to these kinds of experiences in which we are present and involved is crucial to learning about our environment and contributing to its preservation.

Wynwood As Text

Photos by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

“This is Art” by Vivian Acosta of FIU at The Margulies Collection on January 27th, 2021

In Miami’s art hotspot, Wynwood, lies the Margulies Collection. One of the most famous art collection in Miami. This museum stores unique contemporary art. Do not expect to find portraits or realistic paintings because contemporary art breaks traditional art ideals. Contemporary art is more like a pile of paper with wings, senior superheroes, or hanging spices. Expect works that break the barriers we have forced upon our creativity– expect the unexpected.

The more I expose myself to art, the more I learn its real purpose, and the more I learn about a wide variety of topics. I would’ve never thought that one learns far more than merely technique through art: history, memoirs, nature, and societal issues are just some of the themes expressed through artworks. Mr. Margulies’ mission is to share his unique collection with the public and educate others through his collection. I am amazed by how artworks are thought-provoking, they spark discussions, and they trigger feelings.

If you had asked me a couple of years ago what art is, my response would’ve had something to do with aesthetics. In reality, that is not the case. I believe that this flawed idea is prevalent. Yes, art is often beautiful, but beauty can also be found within. An art piece can have a flawless technique, while the idea of another one can be brilliant. These two pieces would probably be very different, but they would be beautiful in their own way; they provoke different reactions in us– and that’s the beauty of it.

As we stood in front of Hurma by Magdalena Abakanowicz, we could feel the metaphor behind the headless bodies. It was very gloomy, scary even. This piece reflected on how people were dehumanized– their thoughts, ideas, beliefs, desires, qualities, values, and rights were taken from them. Hurma’s beauty lies deeper than in its appearance.

The talking woman’s head stuck under a mattress also caught our attention. “What was she saying? What was she referring to? What are her emotions?” we all wondered. We were confused. We were trying to imagine what she was admiring, or maybe she was scared? We had different things in mind, and we all experienced the piece uniquely. We were all eagerly trying to figure out the piece’s intent as if it were a riddle; however, now that I think about it—that was exactly it.

One of my favorite works was Blind Eye by Jennifer Steinkamp. A projection of Trees going through different seasons. Something that we can see outside, taken out of context, being highlighted and acknowledged, made me realize how beauty is even in ordinary things, but we fail to admire them when they are in their place.

This is what art is. The idea. The medium. The technique. The context. The thoughts. The emotions. The discussions.

Bill Baggs as Text

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC By 4.0

“History on the Beach” by Vivian Acosta of FIU at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on February 10th, 2021

My class and I attempted to clean Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park—it was challenging. The amount of trash was unbelievable! I had never been to a beach where it was easier to find seashells and pretty balloon-like Man-Of-War creatures than garbage. “Where is all the trash?” I wondered. Surprisingly, it is all deposited where it belongs, in trashcans and not the ocean, nor the sand, and neither in bushes. I am so used to seeing beautiful landscapes, natural environments, and any other place with at least candy wrappers that it seemed unreal to have trouble finding garbage on such a popular beach. Whenever I found a tiny remnant of paper or plastic after long periods of walking and digging, it felt like I had found the hidden treasure—Eureka!!

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is located on the southern tip of Key Biscayne. Here, you can find a breathtaking, calm, and clean beach, a historic lighthouse, biking and hiking trails, etc. The beach has been ranked as one of the top ten nicest beaches in the United States. How couldn’t it be? It is rich in beauty, history, and biodiversity.

The Cape Florida Lighthouse is the oldest structure in Miami Dade. The Lighthouse was built to warn seamen about shallow water and reefs—essentially, to prevent accidents and save lives. This island was also a port for runaway slaves. A spot where individuals took off in search of their freedom, leaving their enslaved lives deprived of their liberty and rights. Today, people visit Bill Baggs Park to relax, enjoy the water, the scenery, and the history to have fun! To recharge and cleanse themselves from their everyday tension, to learn and educate themselves—which also saves lives!

During the second Seminole war, Seminoles attacked the Lighthouse. This act has been frowned upon to the point that Seminoles were seen as “savages”; however, their homes, farms, and villages were also being attacked and destroyed as a tactic to force them out of their land. The Seminoles fighting back was not an act of “savagery,” but an action of defense, a response to the unjust doing to their tribe.

The Tequesta were the first to inhabit the land. Key Biscayne had freshwater, making it an ideal spot for the Tequesta to meet their needs. Today, pieces of pottery, shells, and tools are often found here. These souvenirs of our past are priceless and unique. Each piece of evidence of our ancestors we find is special.  Unfortunately, throughout the development of Key Biscayne, artifacts have been unappreciated, destroyed, and lost. Some of the remains found may have been sacred belongings of past residents or just remains of the tools they used. Whatever the tiny pieces were used for, there is one thing for sure: they come from the land’s past, and we cannot go back; therefore, they should have been conserved and protected. Sadly, not every part of our history is appreciated, just a convenient selection of events.

River of Grass as Text

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC by 4.0

“Easter Eggs” by Vivian Acosta of FIU At The River of Grass on February 24, 2021

We got to explore the Everglades National Park once again, but this time, we saw more than what’s currently there— we explored its past. There is so much to see, learn, discover, and experience that visiting a couple of times is not enough. Think about the amount of history this place holds. I wonder what it looked like back then—there was probably a variety of fauna, flora, and beauty just like today! However, considering how the climate has changed over the years, I’m probably wrong.

Approximately 15,000 years ago, when humans came to Florida, the environment was different. There were arid landscapes where Paleo-Indians hunted large animals such as giant sloths and saber-toothed cats. Over the years, the climate changed, and the terrain got wetter. Inhabitants adapted, and large animals became extinct. The subtropical wetland became home to two major tribes, the Calusa and the Tequesta.

Fast-forwarding to the 19th Century, parts of the Everglades were used as farmland. Sugarcane and tomatoes were grown here. I would have never imagined crops in the middle of an ecological gem –nor a hidden missile site, but hey, this place is packed with easter eggs! Altering the land and adding chemicals to the environment when cultivating crops would throw off the ecosystem’s balance with no doubt. Unfortunately, back then, most people thought a piece of land was insignificant and useless unless it was used for something they could profit from, so why consider the consequences of development and agriculture? Developers were trying to basically destroy the wildlife’s environment and replace it with buildings and businesses. Luckily, Marjory Stoneman Douglas magnified the beauty that was here, and that people were choosing not to see. She also highlighted the importance of this natural wonder and saved the Everglades.

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

I got to experience the beauty and greatness of nature once again, just as Marjory Stoneman Douglas describes it in her book “The Everglades: River of Grass.” I was mesmerized by solution holes. Solution holes are a wonder. Small, natural pools for animals–and humans.. or maybe not. Holes in the middle of a dry landscape where animals refresh themselves from Florida’s high temperatures. I also enjoyed watching a bird I had never seen before, the Roseate Spoonbill, a great pink bird who was posing for us and welcoming us to its home.

We also came across the Brazilian Peppertree, a small tree with red berries. These trees can be found in the Everglades, but they are originally from South America. They were brought to Florida in the mid-1800s to use as decoration for homes and gardens. Because their berries are bright red and the leaves are green, they are the perfect ornaments for the holidays. However, this tree is an invasive non-indigenous pest plant in Florida. These trees produce a dense canopy that prevents sunlight from reaching other plants; therefore, the habitat becomes unsuitable for native species.

Just like the Native species were colonized by invasive species, so were the Calusa and the Tequesta. These two tribes occupied this region; however, soon after the Spanish explorers arrived, the Calusa began to vanish. The Tequesta and the Calusa’s habitats were no longer safe for them. Their home was invaded, taken over, and infected with diseases. Unfortunately, the Brazilian peppertree prevailed in this metaphor, ending with native species, their beauty, diversity, and culture.