Vivian Acosta: Homestead 2019

Biography

My name is Vivian Acosta, and I am currently a junior at Florida International University pursuing a degree in psychology. My goal is to one day help people recover from distressful stages in their lives. I was born and raised in a small city in Honduras, and I recently moved to Miami to attend college. I am still adapting to the city’s fast pace; however, I enjoy the diversity of Miami, and I delight in learning about the different cultures this city holds.

Geography

Homestead is a city in Miami-Dade County, Florida, United States. Homestead is a major agricultural area; therefore, it is common to come across acres of crops alongside the street. The city keeps the right balance in preserving its abundant flora and improving its infrastructure. This suburb is located about 35 miles southwest of Miami, and 25 miles northwest of Key Largo. Biscayne National Park is to the east of Homestead while Everglades National Park is to the west (“Homestead, Florida” 2019).

Homestead is a traditional city that counts with the amenities needed by the city’s residents; however, the city is not saturated with businesses. Unlike the bigger cities in Miami, Homestead does not have any tall buildings. The tallest buildings you will encounter here only go up to about seven floors. If you would like to see some tall buildings, then you will have to drive about 45 minutes to get to downtown Miami.

History

“Homestead Florida East Coast Railway Station” (Original photo on display at The Florida Pioneer Museum.)

It is believed that about 10,000 of years ago, the Tequesta and the Calusa visited the land, of what is now Homestead, to fish and hunt. They might have inhabited the land for a while; however, no fossil sites have been found in the area, so there is no evidence of habitation.

In 1897, the area was opened to homesteaders. This was a result of the Homestead Act, passed in 1862. The act allowed settlers, including formerly slaved people, farmers without their own land, Seminoles, and single women to claim 160 acres of land. However, they were required to live on the property, build a home, and farm for five years. To no one’s surprise, the fertile land attracted many homesteaders. At the time, the area resembled a pine forest, so people built their homes using pine wood. Eventually, they realized that using that material for their homes was dangerous because it was prone to fires. Yes, they learned the hard way.

The only way in and out of the land was through one trail called The Homesteaders’ Trail; however, this changed in 1904, when the Florida East Coast Railway reached Homestead. The railroad became crucial for the land’s agriculture business. Farmers exported fruits and vegetables through the railway. Homestead began to grow rapidly because of its agriculture. The area became an important trading center. Homestead started to gain population, and its economy was increasing. In 1913, the Town of Homestead was incorporated with a population of 121 people and 28 registered voters.

Homestead boomed in the 1920s. The city was growing rapidly, new businesses were opening, many people were moving in, and exporting was better than ever. Crops were exported from Homestead to different cities to the north. In 1923, Homestead officially became a city with 3,360 residents.

Airplane destroyed by Hurricane Andrew (Original photo displayed at Historic Homestead Town Hall Museum)

The development of the city appeared to be unstoppable. Unfortunately, the growth didn’t last for long. Homestead was struck by three hurricanes: in 1926, 1945, and 1992. The damage was so catastrophic that most of the city had to be rebuilt every time.
In 1992, the city of Homestead was in the eye of Category 5, hurricane Andrew. The hurricane destroyed more than 63,500 houses and caused $27.3 billion damage. Homestead was ground zero. It seemed unlikely for the city to recover from this hit.

Today, Homestead has bounced back. The city’s population has grown to 70,000 people. Homestead’s economy has increased over the years, and future job growth is predicted. Homestead is slowly growing and coming up with strategies to attract people to the city (“History of Our City: Homestead, FL – Official Website”).

Demographics

According to the United States Census Bureau:
Seventy thousand four hundred seventy-seven (70,477) people are residing in Homestead. The ethnic composition of Homestead’s population is composed of sixty-three percent (63%) of Hispanics, twenty-three percent (23%) blacks or African Americans, and thirteen percent Whites (13%). Forty-nine percent (49%) of the population are females, while fifty-one percent are males (51%). The annual per capita income is $17,405, and the median age of people in Homestead is 30.9 years old (“U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Homestead city, Florida”).

Biography of Guillermo (a Homestead resident)

Biography of Guillermo (a Homestead resident)

A person standing in front of a building

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Guillermo Rivera was born on October 25, 2000, in Honduras. He moved to Homestead when he turned 8. Since then, he has been living in Homestead with both of his parents. Currently, Guillermo is a junior at Miami Dade College Homestead Campus and works at Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery– a local restaurant and winery.

Guillermo’s thoughts on Homestead:

Vivian: What is your favorite aspect about the city?

Guillermo: I enjoy the people I associate with. They are down to Earth, genuine, and fun.


Vivian:
What is your least favorite aspect about the city?

Guillermo: The city is shortly developed; I get bored of going to the same places. The city doesn’t have many things to do.

Vivian: Do you enjoy living here?

Guillermo: For the most part.

Vivian: If you could change anything about the Homestead, what would it be?

Guillermo: I would like the city to have at least one mall, a chick-fil-A, and more places to hang out. The closest chick-fil-A from here (Homestead) is in Kendall. I shouldn’t have to drive 25 miles to buy food I’m craving. 

-Guillermo enjoys the peaceful city, but sometimes he gets bored of it. He wishes there were more exciting things to do in Homestead. –

Landmarks

The Florida Pioneer Museum
The Florida Pioneer Museum (Photo by Vivian Acosta)

The Pioneer Museum’s building was once the Homestead Florida East Coast Railroad station agent’s home. The building was initially located in Homestead; however, it was moved in the mid-1960s to Homestead’s sister city Florida City (“Florida Pioneer Museum”).

The museum replicates the way a house would have been furnished and decorated in the 1900s. The museum counts with a parlor, a dining room, a kitchen, a laundry room, and an attic/guest room. Each room is filled with antiques appropriate for the place they’re in.

 They also count with a display of Native American artifacts. Mostly shell tools and pottery.

Visiting this museum is extremely interesting. It gives you an idea of what life was like a century ago. By observing the tools people used, you can also imagine the activities they engaged in, and we can see where the (improved) designs of many of our appliances come from!

The Florida Pioneer Museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Historic Homestead Town Hall Museum
Historic Homestead Town Hall Museum (Photo by Vivian Acosta)

The Historic Homestead Town Hall Museum is located in the building that once was Homestead’s town hall. The building was built in 1917. The original structure of the building was preserved; therefore, what you see today, is what was there about one hundred years ago!

On the first floor of the town hall, fire trucks were stored. On the rear of the building, there were jail cells for men. The municipal offices were located on the second floor of the building.

Today, the historic town hall has been transformed into a small museum. The museum has displays of historical artifacts of different periods. It also counts with a collection of photographs of Homestead over the years. The museum also has a 1924 American LaFrance fire truck! Seeing pieces of the past firsthand is invaluable!

The Historic Homestead Town Hall Museum is part of the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Coral Castle Museum

The Coral Castle is a castle that was made from limestone around 1923. Inside, there is a sculpture garden, which includes furniture carved from stone and a castle tower.

The Coral Castle’s construction took 28 years. It was built by Edward Leedskalnin, a 5 feet tall man who weighed around 100 pounds. Ed worked on the development of the castle during the night, so no one would see him working. 

Whenever Ed was asked about the process of the construction of the castle, he would only mention that he knew the secret of the pyramids. Today, the methods Edward used to build the castle remains a mystery.

The Coral Castle is one of Homestead’s main tourist attractions.

Green

The city of Homestead counts with many parks in which residents can engage in recreational activities such as playing sports, exercising, picnicking, and even parting to distract themselves from their daily hassles.

I noticed that in Homestead, visiting parks is not as popular as it is in other cities. I visited two different parks in Homestead on a Thursday evening, and there were barely any people in the parks. 

Losner Park
J.D Redd Municipal Park

J.D Redd Municipal Park counts with several amenities. It has several tennis courts, pavilions, a baseball court, and a playground. This park is an excellent place to exercise, play sports, and bring the little ones out to play.

Transportation

According to Data USA, as of 2017, 67.3% of the population in Homestead drive alone, 18% carpool, and 6.71% public transit (“Homestead, FL”).   

Most people use their cars as their main mean of transportation. Many people in Homestead do not work in the city; therefore, they have to wake up extremely early to get to their jobs on time. The average car ride time for Homestead residents to get to their jobs is 35 minutes (with no traffic). However, it can take them a little bit more than twice their average time during rush hours.

To move within the city, some people like to walk; however, many streets do not have sidewalks; therefore, pedestrians end up walking on grass or on the edge of the road: neither of these options is safe.

Only about 7% of Homestead’s population uses public transportation (“Homestead, FL”). It might be because there aren’t many bus stops in the city, which means that people are required to walk long distances to get to the nearest bus stop. Perhaps, taking the bus is not as convenient as it should for Homestead residents.

If a Homestead resident wanted to take the metro, he/she would have to get to the nearest metro station first. The closest metro station to Homestead is Dadeland South Metrorail Station, which is about 30 miles away from Homestead. The lack of a convenient transportation system almost requires residents to own a car. Homestead is not a big city, and having every resident on the street in their car is problematic.

Food

Salvadoran Cuisine

Salvadoran Cuisine serves Central American dishes. Their specialty is pupusas, a Salvadoran meal. This restaurant started as a small family business in the backyard of the owners’ house. After a couple of years, they became so popular that they had to expand their business, so they opened Salvadoran Cuisine. Today, the restaurant remains popular; consequently, it tends to be busy during the whole day

As you walk into the restaurant, you will immediately notice its originality. A shelf filled with Hispanic goodies will great you. The walls are decorated with images of Central American landscapes, and their TVs are usually playing either novelas or soccer games. The owners do a fantastic job of expressing their culture through their food, decorations, and environment.

La Cruzada Restaurant

La Cruzada Restaurant is one of the most authentic restaurants I have ever visited. As you are walking to the front door, you will notice many Mexican themed adornments. As you step into the restaurant, festive, Hispanic music will welcome you along with the waitresses who are dressed in traditional Mexican clothing. The roof of the restaurant is decorated with piñatas, and the walls are covered with paintings and pictures of historic Mexican figures. Every little detail adds to the pleasant environment.

When I visited, I had tacos al pastor with a Mexican soda. The tacos were delicious. I had an excellent lunch this day. Did I mention that they have a menu for vegans? I walked out through the back door, and I discovered a garden section! Overall, La Cruzada Restaurant is a great option to grab a quick meal, have lunch, or even have a date in the romantic garden section. I recommend La Cruzada Restaurant, and I will definitely revisit the restaurant.

Businesses

Robert Is Here Fruit Stand

Robert Is Here Fruit Stand started as a fruit stand on the side of the road. Over the years, it gained so much popularity that today, tourists make sure to visit this unique spot when they come to Homestead. All kinds of vegetables and fruits are sold here, and most of them are from Robert’s own farm. Delicious milkshakes and smoothies are also part of this business’s menu.

Robert Is Here Fruit Stand is a nice place to visit with your family.  It has an animal farm, a play area for kids, and picnic tables where you can sit and enjoy one of their delicious smoothies or milkshakes. On your way out, you can purchase an exotic fruit or one of their souvenirs!

Mexico Market

Mexico Market is a small grocery market owned by a family of Mexican heritage. What separates this grocery store from other stores is that they sell imported products from Mexico. Mexican seasonings, tortillas, pan dulce, candy, cheese, sour cream, and piñatas are only some of the products sold in this grocery store. As a Hispanic, I can assure you that many of our recipes do not taste the same without specific homemade products! Therefore, I feel like this place is a gem. Sixty-three percent of Homestead’s population is Hispanic; consequently, I assume that they come here often to purchase goods that remind them of home. Selling Mexican products in a city where the majority of its residents are Hispanic, is a brilliant business.

Summary

Homestead definitely does not fit Miami’s stereotypes. In here, the nights are not alive, and tall buildings are non-existent; however, that is completely fine. Miamians are quite unique, so I would expect the cities to be diverse also. I believe that such differences between cities are convenient because we all enjoy different lifestyles. Seeing a landscape with lush green grass could be as enjoyable as seeing skylines, it just depends on who you are asking.

The city balances green area and infrastructure decently; however, a lot of the green space in the city is not well kept. Overgrown shrubs and tall grass affect the city’s appearance. There are many wastelands within the city: such places should be cleaned, the grass should be mowed, and the trees should be pruned. Another inconvenient aspect of Homestead is that most sidewalks are too narrow for two people to walk on, and many streets don’t even have sidewalks. I would expect a traditional small town like Homestead to be pedestrian-friendly; however, it isn’t.

Many areas are under construction, and many spaces are still untouched. The city is growing, and it will continue to grow over the years; however, I hope the city keeps its unique, tranquil style and that it doesn’t turn into another crowded city on the map.

Watch out for the cameras on the traffic lights! Many cities have taken down their traffic light cameras; however, Homestead (Homestead’s officials) refuses to do so. I was curious as to why there are so many working traffic light cameras in the city, so I had to ask! A worker from Homestead’s city hall explained to me that the city is “poor,” and that they need money to invest on the city; therefore, having traffic light cameras gives the city a decent amount of money.

Photo by Vivian Acosta

Agriculture is the basis of Homestead’s economy; therefore, a lot of the people who live in Homestead work on farms, plantations, landscaping, and fruit packing companies. Many of the people working on such jobs are immigrants, and some are undocumented. As I drove by many crops in Homestead, I noticed men and women bending down and picking fruit at 12 pm. I immediately questioned why they “choose” to work in such a fatiguing job; however, I realized that many of them don’t really have a choice. They come to this country to be freed from poverty, crime, or injustice; however, on the land of the free, they are enslaved by their identities. They are banned from doing necessary activities such as driving and working; nevertheless, immigrants must work to fulfill their American dream. Employers let undocumented immigrants operate for their companies, but they take advantage of their legal status. Undocumented workers get paid less than the minimum wage, they overwork, and sometimes they work under uncomfortable and even dangerous conditions; however, they don’t tend to speak up. People in Homestead are aware of this situation; therefore, there are several non-profit, organizations that help educate immigrants about their rights and encourage them to speak up and make their voices heard. WeCount! is a non-profit organization whose mission is “to build the power of the immigrant community in Homestead” (“We Count! – Sembrando Justicia”). I admire how the city identifies its issues and is active in finding a solution.

I enjoyed my time in Homestead. The city may be underdeveloped, but that’s what makes it different, consequently unique. Homestead is a small city with a peaceful atmosphere. If you want l to escape from your headaches and stay away from big-city chaos for a day, then, Homestead is the right city to visit!

Works cited

Florida Pioneer Museum, http://floridapioneermuseum.org/about/.

“History of Our City: Homestead, FL – Official Website.” History of Our City | Homestead, FL  Official Website, https://www.cityofhomestead.com/264/History-of-Our-City.

 “Homestead, FL.” Data USA, https://datausa.io/profile/geo/homestead-fl/#demographics.

 “Homestead, FL – Homestead, Florida Map & Directions.” MapQuest, https://www.mapquest.com/us/florida/homestead-fl-282040246.

“Homestead, Florida.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 9 Dec. 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homestead, Florida.

Interactive, Nia. We Count! – Sembrando Justicia, http://www.we-count.org/index.php?page=planting-justice.

Vivian Acosta: Miami Service 2019

Chicken Key Cleanup (Photo by Vivian Acosta)

On November 10, 2019, Nicole Patrick, an Honors College student from my MIM course, had the brilliant idea of organizing a cleanup at Chicken Key with the help of Professor John Bailly and the Deering Estate. Without hesitation, I joined the team of volunteers.

At 10 am, we embarked on our journey from Deering Estate to Chicken Key, a small island located approximately one mile offshore. The Deering Estate is an environmental, archeological, historical, and architectural preserve owned by the state of Florida and managed by the Miami Dade County Park and Recreation department (“Deering Estate History: Historic Miami Mansion & Gardens” 2019).  They facilitated the execution of our cleanup by providing us with kayaks, canoes, paddles, life vests, gloves, and paper bags.

On that morning, the tide was high, and the wind was blowing furiously, but the view was breathtaking. Even though I’m not a good canoer, the thought of giving up never crossed my mind. I was never discouraged by any of the obstacles. It took us about 50 minutes of kayaking to get to the island. Even though it was a wild ride, I enjoyed it. I will never get over how beautiful the water, the sky, and the sun looked all together. At times, the view is so breathtaking that it seems unreal! As I admired the unbelievable scene, I realized how taken for granted nature is. It is stunning, and somehow we have become desensitized to it. Perhaps that is the reason why we damage our planet recklessly: if everyone appreciated nature’s beauty, then they would probably be more concerned about its destruction.

We are so disconnected from our surroundings that we don’t see what we’re missing out on and what we are killing. Activities such as cleanups, like the one I was part of on November 10th, help people expand their perception of concerning issues.

We arrived at Chicken Key at approximately 11 am. Then, we were divided into four groups: each group was assigned an area on the island to clean. I immediately started looking for debris, but I didn’t notice any on the surface. I decided to look deeper and began to explore. I’ve always feared the unknown, so exploring is kind of looking for the unknown; however, I went for it. After all, no treasure is found without searching! I began to go inside bushes, in between the tangled roots of the mangroves, and under low tree branches. I eventually found many things! One of the biggest items I found was a big orange bucket. I didn’t understand how nobody, including myself, had noticed it before– a big orange bucket sitting among trees. I realized that the lack of mindfulness while performing a task could sabotage the achievement of our goals.

Photo by Juliana Pereira

I also found two medicine glass bottles. A pair of sunglasses sandwiched between the ground and the mangrove roots, a pair of scissors, and lots and lots of plastic and glass bottles. It takes up to 1,000 years for plastic bottles to decompose (LeBlanc 2019). Can you imagine what beaches would look like without cleanups? It would be difficult to enjoy such beauty with so much garbage.

We think that by using paper straws and paper bags will solve the damage we have caused to our home; however, paper takes about one month and a half to decompose (LeBlanc 2019). Decreasing the use of plastic and other eco-unfriendly material is definitely a great way of reducing the damage; however, to save the world, what must change is our mindset: that is the solution. We have to be aware of the consequences of our actions. Hermit crabs mistake bottles for seashells, turtles get trapped in plastic and ropes, seals mistaken plastic bags for jellyfish, birds mistake plastic for food, etc.

We finished picking up debris at approximately 1:30 pm. Then, we had a picnic and had some time to swim. It was refreshing to relax in such a calm and beautiful environment–very different from what one is used to. Then, by 2:30 pm, we began to head back to Deering Estate. On our way back, the tide wasn’t as bad, and the wind was helping us instead of sabotaging us. As we canoed, pelicans guided our paths.

When we arrived at The Deering Estate, we proceeded to put the canoes and equipment back, and we got rid of the garbage.

The things we can achieve by working together are impressing. We ended up with approximately twenty garbage bags filled with trash! Think about the positive impact we have the potential to make if small groups around the world get together regularly and do cleanups like the one we did. Together we could truly make a difference. Unfortunately, in the last couple of years, we’ve been using this power for the worse.

Overall, I found this activity extremely rewarding and enjoyable for many reasons. I got to relax, reflect, realize, and had fun! This is a fantastic way of serving the community and expanding one’s perceptions in order to grow as a person.  

A special thanks to Nicole Patrick for organizing this clean up in such a thorough way, to Professor Bailly for encouraging his students to be leaders and serve our community, and to The Deering Estate for making it possible.

Works Cited

“Deering Estate History: Historic Miami Mansion & Gardens.” Deering Estate, 5 Nov. 2019, https://deeringestate.org/history/.

LeBlanc, Rick. “How Long Will It Take That Bag of Trash to Decompose in a Landfill?” The Balance Small Business, The Balance Small Business, 22 Oct. 2019, https://www.thebalancesmb.com/how-long-does-it-take-garbage-to-decompose-2878033.

Vivian Acosta: Lauren Shapiro 2021

“I wanted them to feel like they were part of something greater than themselves. I think that’s the power of art– to create something greater than yourself.” -Lauren Shapiro

Student Bio

Photo by John Bailly CC BY 4.0

My name is Vivian Acosta, and I am a senior at Florida International University majoring in psychology. I enjoy helping others, and I aspire to contribute to others’ well-being wherever I set my foot throughout my career. 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 themes merge through art, which I find fascinating.

Biography

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0
Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

Lauren Shapiro is a visual artist who was born and raised in Florida. As a child, she spent a lot of her time exploring nature outdoors. She enjoyed camping, snorkeling, and practicing different activities out in nature. Her early exposure to natural surroundings gave her a great integration with nature at a young age.

Lauren earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Florida Atlantic University, where she discovered her passion for ceramics after taking a wheel throwing course “by accident,” she highlights. She was a painter for many years. Her career interest shifted during her undergraduate studies after taking several ceramics classes and discovering her passion and talent for this art form.

Lauren Shapiro earned her Master of Fine Arts in Ceramics at the University of Miami, focusing on slip casting and mold making. After her graduate career, she began to look through Miami’s lens and communicate the environmental issues she saw here. Her environmental activism is reflected in her latest projects. Her works are inspired by nature and environmental research. Lauren is currently an artist in residence at the Bakehouse Art complex.

Personal Identity

Photo by Andrea Sofia R. Matos CC BY 4.0

Lauren has always had a special connection with the environment. When she was six, she joined the girl scouts and was a member for about ten years—as a result, camping and exploring were a memorable part of her childhood. She also enjoyed going snorkeling, doing beach cleanups, and different kinds of activities out in nature. Lauren participated in several educational programs that taught her about diverse ecosystems. She admired nature and was interested in learning about its “magic.” As a young adult, Lauren enjoyed traveling to unique locations with natural wonders. She mentions that possibly her exposure to nature as a young girl influenced her interests later on. Ever since she was little, she has been fascinated by nature and drawn to it. Today, her passion for the environment is reflected in her work.

Lauren believes that her subject of interest resulted from a natural progression from being an explorer girl to creating things she admires, loves, and is inspired by. She intends to share the beauty of our environment with the community while highlighting its fragileness. Through her works, Lauren aims to encourage environmental stewardship. By communicating our current ecological issues and highlighting nature’s beauty, Lauren’s projects can spark a desire for change in the community, contributing to saving the beautiful environment she admires.     

Cultural Identity

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

Lauren is a Miami-based artist who focuses on the numerous environmental issues of Miami. She looks at the many environmental concerns of this city and often expresses them through her work. She aims to communicate these issues to the local community using her projects as vehicles to reach the public.

Community engagement is a big part of Lauren’s work. In several of her projects, she invites the community to help her make her art pieces. She uses these opportunities to call attention to environmental concerns such as red tides, rising sea levels, mortality of corals, water quality degradation, etc. These subjects are often covered in the news or educational settings, but unfortunately, it does not get communicated to everyone. Lauren feels a sense of responsibility to spread the word and raise awareness of Miami’s harmful trends.

When asked about her cultural identity, she highlighted that America is very colorful and that it is a mixture of all sorts of diversity. She touched on her descent and mentioned that one side of her family immigrated from Poland and Russia, and the other side was from the South. She noted that in the future, she would like to explore the implications of her ancestry.  Half of her ancestors were Holocaust survivors, while the other half were colonists. She would like to interpret the meaning of these two merging worlds in her work in the future. As of now, she focuses on environmental themes.

Subject of artwork

Photo by Andrea Sofia R. Matos CC BY 4.0

Lauren’s work is inspired by nature and the environment. Florida’s tropical ecology has been a significant influence in her artwork (Lauren Shapiro).  She creates things that emulate nature and the life cycle of living things, which starts with growth, and decays over time. Lauren is also fascinated by tipping points and how everything in our environment is interconnected. She reflects her fascination for natural systems in her work. Lauren also highlights the current environmental issues we are experiencing. She enjoys playing with different aspects of nature.

Lauren communicates research findings and educates the public on environmental concerns. Lauren communicates these issues in a conceptual way while making art inspired by nature with the local community. While engaging with the community, she calls attention to topics such as climate change, sea-level rise, pollution, etc. Often, these topics aren’t communicated effectively to the public, and it is crucial for people to understand what’s going on for them to take action. Lauren aims to inspire the community through her projects and encourage environmental stewardship. While molding textures in clay, Lauren teaches the community how and why we should protect our ecosystems (Lauren Shapiro).

The environmental issues Lauren focuses on in her work should be concerns for everyone on this planet. A lot of people ignore these issues or just discredit their veracity. Through her projects, Lauren clears any misconceptions and shares accurate information. Hundreds of people attend her workshops! Lauren has the power to capture an audience that science often can’t reach.

I believe that her work does impact people. It makes them feel a special connection with the environment. At Lauren’s workshops, people create replicas of things naturally found in our environment, which are disappearing due to our actions. This memorable experience definitely inspires one to take action. Lauren mentions that she believes that her work does affect social change at little individual levels. It is our responsibility to collectively get the upper management to attend to these issues.

A small change is better than no change at all. After all, “small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world” (Zinn).

Formal Elements Of artwork

Photo by Andrea Sofia R. Matos CC BY 4.0

Lauren often uses materials such as plaster and clay in her work. Naturally, these mediums require careful and methodological handling. After seeing some of her works, it was no surprise when she informed me about her creative process. Lauren describes her work as being organized and structured. She plans and performs her projects meticulously. She makes molds, then figures using these molds, and adds them to the main structure, which was also thoroughly planned and arranged. Perhaps one of the only random procedures in her process is adding the pieces to the main structure. Lauren mentioned that even with some of her projects that seem expressionistic, there was a structure in place when making it. She emphasizes that in her work, she works with a lot of systems.

Lauren is interested in nature’s design. She chooses elements that emulate nature in her works. When it comes to shape, most of her works replicate shapes found in nature. Leaves, fruits, and corals are some of the forms she has played with in her past works. She also incorporates soft, organic geometry. She often includes hexagons in her works. Lauren describes them as the most space-saving shape and highlights that they are hidden all over nature– She mentioned honeycombs and plant cells as an example. When it comes to color, she gravitates towards colors that are more indicative of natural hues. Lauren avoids shine, adds matte finishes, and opts for muted tones.

EXHIBITION AND PROJECT HISTORY

Garden House:

The first time Lauren Shapiro involved the community in her work was in her project called Garden House in 2017. This piece is a column covered with clay sculptures. Lauren studied the common plants in Miami and cast leaves and nature’s textures in silicon molds. Then, she pressed the clay into the molds and made forms of things found in our environment with the community’s help.

This artwork was fragile purposely; the clay was unfired so it could fall apart and crumble after a short period. This piece could be seen as a metaphor for what really goes on in our environment. When working on this project, Lauren was running out of time and had a lot of clay to add to the column, so she asked the community for help. They were excited to be a part of her project—the community’s interest in helping surprised Lauren and inspired her to invite them to future projects. This piece was exhibited during Art Basel at the Downtown Historic Office (Domus Hortus).

Future Pacific:

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

Lauren collaborated with Doctor Nyssa Silbiger for this project. Doctor Nyssa researches the effects human-driven stressors have on coral reefs. Doctor Nyssa wanted to communicate her studies through a medium that would reach a broader audience. Doctor Nyssa reached out to Lauren, and Lauren came up with the idea of creating art with the community

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

Lauren made silicone molds of different kinds of coral skeletons. Then, the community was invited to press clay into these molds and add their coral skeletons (made from clay) to several architectural structures until such structures were completely covered in corals.

Lauren used unfired clay to mimic the fragility of these corals in their natural ecosystems. With time, the coral skeletons made out of clay began to crack and fall apart, just like the corals underwater being destroyed thanks to our unsustainable actions.

Through this project, Lauren aimed to communicate what’s happening to the rainforests of the oceans. She also highlighted their beauty and importance. Lauren encouraged sustainable practices that would contribute to our ecosystems’ well-being while creating with the community. Future Pacific was exhibited at the Bakehouse Art Complex.

Molding the Future:

Photo by Luz Mariana CC BY 4.0

This project is a permanent ceramic sculpture made by Lauren and the local community.  It will be exhibited in June 2021 at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Participants will have the opportunity to press clay into molds of leaves found in our local landscape. The final result will highlight the beauty of our tropical ecosystems. Lauren aims to draw attention to our ecosystem’s beauty and encourage people to appreciate it and care for it. The clay in this work will be fired, meaning that it is not a temporary piece like the ones mentioned previously. The community will contribute to a permanent artwork that will be displayed in nature.

Student perspective

Photo by Andrea Sofia R. Matos CC BY 4.0

While working with Lauren, I learned several things about the environment and art—two subjects that I only imagined them merging in paintings or photographs of landscapes. I severely underestimated art’s power and voice. I was aware of art’s versatility, but I never imagined it as a medium to spread awareness on environmental issues. Through art, the message reaches more people, and it sticks with them. Art evokes emotions, and emotions influence our actions. Making art about these beautiful things in nature while learning about their destruction is definitely touching. These sentiments put us in a position to want to do something about these issues. After playing with leaves and corals that are originally found in the environment, we experience some type of connection with nature– as a result, a sense of responsibility. What can we do about it? Where do we start? Change begins with a thought, an idea, but first, we have to notice and acknowledge that there is a problem. Even though the media and science miss some of the public when informing about these issues, projects like Future Pacific and Molding the Future express the message more effectively.

I greatly enjoy how Lauren merges two things she’s passionate about, art and the environment, and makes something beautiful from it. Not only she voices her interest in nature in her work, but she also uses it as a vehicle to communicate the beauty, vulnerability, and power of nature. This is a brilliant way to allow the community to experience nature. From these experiences, people are also learning about nature and hopefully caring about it as well. Once people care, they’re ready to protect. We can’t force people to protect something they don’t care about or have a connection with—I feel like Lauren’s projects offer this connection that people need to feel inspired to make a change.

The temperatures are increasing all over the world, and they are throwing off the ecosystems of many species. Our air and water are being polluted. As a result, we’re breathing in more toxins, and the water quality is becoming more acidic. Our sea levels are rising; consequently, we’re experiencing more flooding and harsher precipitations. The areas with the most diverse species are being cleared, and many of these species are disappearing. We are harming our environment with our actions, and we are not looking back at the disaster we are leaving behind. I guess it just hurts less when we don’t take responsibility and toss it to someone else. Taking these issues and making something beautiful from it makes it difficult to look away. Lauren does an excellent job calling attention to these kinds of problems and communicating them in an accessible way. I had the opportunity to attend one of Lauren’s workshops for Future Pacific, and I did numerous coral skeletons from clay. I added them one by one to some structures; however, they were very large, and my twenty coral skeletons didn’t cover much of it. Months later, I went back to Bakehouse Art Complex to see the final result. When I saw the exhibition, I felt proud. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I made parts of that work, and so did many more individuals from the community. These projects are evidence of our power as a community when we get together to reach a common goal.

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

I learned about the process of making artworks. Artists work so hard in preparing and doing their works. Approximately three hundred people assisted Lauren’s Future Pacific workshop, and she needed more help to complete her piece. Artists dedicate their time and energy to their beautiful projects, and we don’t tend to think about what goes on behind the scenes when looking at their stunning results. I was surprised when Lauren told me about how difficult it was to get the coral skeletons she needed to make silicone molds of them. I also saw Lauren kneading these big balls of clay–it looked exhausting. It made me realize that these powerful works require strength, patience, and effort. Artists deserve more recognition. I greatly admire Lauren’s works, ideas, and creative ways of inspiring the change we need in our world.

Citations

“Domus Hortus.” Lauren Shapiro, laurenshapiroart.com/domus-hortus-1. 

Lauren Shapiro. laurenshapiroart.com/cv/contact. 

Zinn, Howard. “‘Small Acts, When Multiplied by Millions of People, Can Transform the World.”.” Journey Academy, Journey Academy Https://Journeyacademy.org/Wp-Content/Uploads/2020/12/Journey-Logo-Small-1-300×138.Png, 17 May 2019, journeyacademy.org/2019/05/17/small-acts-when-multiplied-by-millions-of-people-can-transform-the-world/.

Vivian Acosta: Art Service Project, Spring 2021

Photo By Yadiel Acosta CC By 4.0

Student Bio

My name is Vivian Acosta, and I am a senior at Florida International University majoring in psychology. I enjoy helping others, and I aspire to contribute to others’ well-being wherever I set my foot throughout my career. I volunteered at Coral Gables Museum, and this was my experience:

Who

Photo By Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

I volunteered at Coral Gables Museum, assisting the Director of Education Liliam Dominguez with the Museum’s Spring Camp. Coral Gables Museum is located at what was once the Gables’ Police and Fire Station. The museum focuses on narrating the story of how Coral Gables was founded and developed through its permanent exhibition “Creating The Dream: George E. Merrick And His Vision For Coral Gables.” Works by a variety of artists are also exhibited at the museum. The Coral Gables Museum’s mission is to celebrate the history of the community of Coral Gables. At the same time, they explore the civic arts of the city and foster history, art, and cultural appreciation to their broad audience (Coral Gables Museum). The museum offers a variety of programs such as tours, educational contributions, and special events.

Several Camps are offered to the children of the community throughout the year. In these camps, kids explore their creativity through art and explore the environment and community outdoors by going on excursions. These camps are planned and executed by the educator and visual artist Dr. Lili, whom I had the honor to assist throughout spring camp.

Why

Photo By Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

I enjoy exploring areas that I am not familiar with. This opportunity did not relate to my major, I originally thought, which was one of the reasons why I chose it. By exploring different fields and putting myself in situations that I am not familiar with, I have the opportunity to grow, gain knowledge, and expand my experience. I have been to numerous art museums, and even though I do not have any background in art, I greatly enjoy it and appreciate learning about it and experiencing its beauty. Art museums are enriched with culture, history, and—of course—art! I saw volunteering at a museum as a major opportunity to learn about an array of topics. 

I wasn’t sure what activities I was going to assist with at the museum, but whatever it was, I knew that I was going to help others, add a new kind of experience to my life, and stimulate my creative side, which I don’t use as much as I used to. I greatly enjoy creating, but responsibilities and deadlines have gotten in the way of my artistic side, so I knew that being at a museum would inspire this inactive interest of mine.

I contacted Dr. Liliam Dominguez, and she informed me about the Spring Camp the Museum was hosting the following week. Lili kindly allowed me to be a part of this exciting program. I have experience working with children, and I really enjoy their genuine relationships, honest opinions, and original ideas. They are sponges of knowledge and banks of imagination. I have always believed that children should be encouraged to create, explore, and believe in themselves, and this camp promoted just that. My background in psychology allowed me to voice this to them effectively and understand their perspectives. This opportunity allowed me to learn, explore my creativity, and, most importantly, help children have a unique experience at camp.

How

Photos By Vivian Acosta CC By 4.0

I have always enjoyed creating, but as I got older, I stopped practicing one of my favorite hobbies. During camp, my dormant passion awoke. I enjoyed creating side by side with the campers. Their creativity inspired me and taught me to let my mind loose and just create. I handed kids play dough, and they immediately grabbed it and made different characters, monsters, cities, etc. Whereas when I sat and attempted to create something, I couldn’t think of making anything but a ball. By observing the campers work on their art pieces, I learned to allow myself to depart this dimension mentally and enter a new one where I am in charge of inventing everything on it. As Lili taught the campers new skills, techniques, styles, and background information on art, I gained knowledge as well.

I assisted the kids with anything they needed, including short motivational talks. Even though they have great creative potential, they wanted to give up on their projects at times. I was always there to remind them of how unique their past works were and that they could make anything they wanted as long as they tried. I encouraged them to add one more scratch and then another, and eventually, they were back in their flow state. It is essential to keep in mind that we don’t always see the results we want immediately. We must add piece by piece before our ideas begin to take shape.

Through this opportunity, I was able to learn as much from the campers as they had the chance to learn from me.

Where and What

Photos By Vivian Acosta CC By 4.0

Throughout Spring Break, there were different activities planned for the campers. They learned about specific artists, their background, what they’re known for, and their most famous artworks. Then, campers recreated some of these artists’ famous pieces. Some of the artists and works campers learned about were Vincent Van Gogh and his paintings “The Starry Night” and “Vase with Twelve Sunflowers.” They also learned about Alexander Calder and his unique mobiles. Then, they made their own mobiles using components of a portrait—eyes, lips, eyelashes, noses. They also learned about Frida Kahlo and her beautiful portraits. Last but not least, they drew a portrait inspired by Picasso’s Cubism style.

Photo By Vivian Acosta CC By 4.0

I assisted the campers with anything they needed help with. Gluing things, opening bottles, tying knots, showing them what their tasks were and how to do them, and preparing the materials they were going to be using. When they were done with their artworks, I helped to hang them on the wall. I also helped students with bigger projects such as the great Frida Kahlo mosaic and artists’ driver’s license.

We also played several games with the kids. They enjoyed playing musical chairs, follow the leader, and “freeze.” One of their favorite things to do was to make figures from play dough. They were always excited to add new pieces to their “family collection,” which consisted of monsters, characters, and items made out of playdough created by the campers.

We visited Bill Sadowski Park and learned about several reptiles, the different ecosystems in Florida, and the importance of preserving and taking care of our environment. We did a short hike and learned how numerous species are affected daily due to our inconsiderate actions. The campers also did some prints with the leaves and flowers they found during the field trip. On the last day, the campers’ families were invited to appreciate a special exhibition showcasing the works of the campers. It was heartwarming to see how excited the children were to show their parents their unique creations.

When

Screenshot of volunteer hours confirmation

Summary

Photo By Vivian Acosta CC By 4.0

I genuinely enjoyed this opportunity. I got to work with very bright and creative children. I realized how we all have a creative side, but I guess we just shut it down as we get older, or perhaps we just give up. These kids had great imaginations and ideas, and they did doubt their capabilities now and then, but I was gladly there to motivate them and reassure them. I was always there to remind them that their creations were beautiful and unique. They inspired me to stop thinking inside the box and let my imagination guide my work.

The camp was well organized and thoroughly planned. The schedule was filled with different activities to do throughout the day. The campers had time to play, learn, create, snack, socialize, express themselves, and create some more. Campers left camp with knowledge about different artists, art styles, and their own creations. This was a fun experience for everyone involved in the project, including myself.

The Camp counselors were exceptional. The campers were treated like artists at all times. Their perspectives and ideas were respected, and the counselors allowed the kids decided on every detail of their artwork. I learned a lot from that. It taught me that everyone’s decisions are important, especially if one is creating something. If we modify it, we mess with their intent and idea. The counselors were artists themselves and encouraged the artists inside of the kids to explore and express themselves freely.

This was a unique camp, and I enjoyed my experience. Even though I have worked with kids in the past, I have never seen them express themselves through art, and I am glad I had the opportunity to do so. It is heartwarming to know that the museum has activities planned for kids. I also realized that this is essential—after all, they are the future of our community, and what a better way to educate them on culture, art, and history than through a fun and engaging program from an early age. This opportunity was way better than I expected!

Citations

“About.” Coral Gables Museum, 16 Apr. 2021, coralgablesmuseum.org/about/. 

Vivian Acosta: Art Service 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 2020-2021

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.

Frost as Text

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

“What Hides Behind the Masks?” By Vivian Acosta of FIU at The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum on March 10, 2021

“Multiple Personalities” is one of the exhibits at The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum at FIU. This exhibit aims to display “similar items,” in this case, masks, and allow the viewer to find connections between these elements. Several masks are grouped together on a wall, and paintings by Carlos Alfonzo stand on each side of the masked wall. This exhibit’s name implies that each mask represents a unique sense of self; it embodies a unique persona; however, I believe that these masks’ meanings go farther than that. These masks were meant to be appreciated, conserved, and even honored— romanticizing them does not feel right.

“Where are these masks from? What were they used for? How were they acquired?” I kept on asking myself. Masks are often used for several cultural practices around the world. They are used during religious ceremonies, for fertility and funerary rituals, and to honor gods and deceased family members. They are reserved for special occasions; therefore, they are respected and honored. Are they still being honored and respected when they are hung on a wall with no context? Here, to me, it just looks like a group of random masks put together to fulfill the artist’s idea. In my view, they seem like another piece of material used to display a concept. The cultural significance is taken away from the masks, and a mundane mask is left.  I feel like these masks are not receiving the honor or appreciation they deserve.

Should they be at an art museum at all? I do not see an issue with this idea, as long as the mask receives the respect and recognition it deserves and its group’s story is shared. I find it difficult to really appreciate something if I am ignorant of its origin and its significance. I begin to question myself on the meaning, the intent, the process, etc. If there isn’t a real meaning, then I just go with how the piece makes me feel. This piece did evoke some curiosity in me, but not the kind that allows your imagination to open up and expand the artwork in one’s mind, but the kind that makes you doubt and feel uncertain.

I find the name of the piece somewhat problematic also. I do not see these masks as personalities; I see them as various, unique cultures, beliefs, and practices. We use masks to disguise ourselves, and we use masks to protect ourselves; however, the masks that are displayed on this artwork did not serve this purpose. I understand that metaphorically, we change between numerous masks throughout the day depending on the situations we are in. We don’t show our true selves to everyone. We often exaggerate traits that we believe are desirable and hide the unliked ones; however, I do not feel like this piece is an adequate representation of our “multiple personalities” or multiple facades.

I would appreciate this exhibit much more if I learned the story of each mask or each “persona” as the artists refers to it.

Coral Gables as Text

Photos by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

“The Castles From Spain” By Vivian Acosta Of FIU At Coral Gables On March 24th, 2021

It was difficult not to admire my surroundings when driving through Coral Gables. The architecture is so much different from the rest of Miami’s. I noticed a pattern, arches, columns, red roofs, and warm hues. The city looks clean, organized, and overall elegant. I later learned that the city has to follow strict regulations regarding architectural designs, which is the main contributor to the city’s harmonious aesthetic. Most of the buildings have a Mediterranean Revival Style. A design inspired by European buildings.

This was George Merrick’s vision, “a place where your castles in Spain are made real.” A city built with the City Beautiful concept. Merrick was devoted to including key details that would make this city stand out, and he succeeded. The town was carefully planned to be pedestrian friendly. Businesses are nearby, sidewalks are wide, and there are lush trees along sidewalks. The atmosphere is so calm, yet everyone looks so productive marching around to get to their destinations.

Mr. Merrick also designed small villages inspired by international architectural styles. It is usual of us to get inspiration from outside. We do not look into our past or our history, Miami’s true origin, nor highlight it with pride. It is almost as if we are trying to hide it at all costs by burring it with foreign influences. The perfect rationale for this is “to make tourists feel like home,” but I’m pretty sure that tourists would love to experience novelties and authentic places, not scenes they’re used to. We have many unique aspects that characterize our past, but we’ve tried so hard to erase them. Developers have always been so focused in making Miami attractive for outsiders, without considering its residents needs or desires..

Nevertheless, Merrick’s project remains a success. It really shows how careful planning can make a difference. There are cities in Miami that don’t even have sidewalks for pedestrians to walk on, businesses are far, and traffic is not pedestrian-friendly– or friendly at all.

Today, there are many historical landmarks at Coral Gables, such as the Coral Gables Congregational Church, Coral Gables Elementary, Coral Gables Police and Fire Station (currently Coral Gables Museum), and the Biltmore Hotel. The city has done an excellent job preserving these historical gems, and Merrick’s vision is still considered as the city continues to develop.

Vizcaya as Text

Photos by Vivian Acosta CC By 4.0

“Let there be Vizcaya” by Vivian Acosta of FIU at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens on April 7th, 2021.

Driving through the lush trees and plants, one would never imagine what awaits on the other side. The canopy of the trees creates a natural arch that guides us directly to the entrance of what was once James Deering’s home. A Mediterranean Revival mansion painted with a pale tone of pink peaks at the end of the road. Multiple gardens adorn the exterior space of the house. Right at the house entrance, a sculpture of a naked guy with a grape crown who is pouring wine into a bathtub welcomes us, making it clear what the house characterizes—abundance, pleasure, and fecundity.  As he pours the wine, he is inviting his guests to take a sip of the home’s essence– joy, celebration, and festivity. The second one steps into the house, we become part of the lavish show. Renaissance elements here, baroque architecture there, rococo rooms, every single detail adds to the extravagant yet elegant house of Mr. Deering.

Photos by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

He was a wealthy man able to manipulate anything and everything he desired. Whatever he dreamed of, he would make a reality. “J’ai dit,” he proudly claims on the stained-glass door through which light glimmers. This French phrase translates to “I said”—he was a man aware of his power who played God in his heavenly mansion. A European Villa in the middle of the mangroves of Miami? –On it! Cutting a classic art piece by half and disregarding the ethos of the artwork he acquired so that it would fit his idea was not an issue for him. He had a pass to overlook cultural norms and societal rules. He brought components of different art styles and architecture inspired by different regions across Europe to his home. Several rooms of the house were built for specific items, such as roofs or furniture Mr. Deering purchased on his shopping sprees across Europe. James Deering’s precious collection of antiques and art remain at his house.

This mansion that embodies pleasure and ecstasy was built by Bahamian workers who were marginalized and punished for no acceptable reason. Banned from enjoying their creations, trapped in angst and uncertainty, but dedicated their lives to the development of grandiose places like Vizcaya.  Unfortunately, this is the reality of many places in Miami. I wish there were sculptures to commemorate those who built this city’s foundation, just like there are of those who colonized it. Bahamians contributed significantly to our development. Without their labor, monuments like Vizcaya would only be fantasies.

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