Students Face Mural Project
Published: October 8, 2008
DOWNTOWN - It's not clear which brings Xavier Cortada more pleasure: teaching youngsters or creating art with them.
"This is a great feeling to know you are a part of inspiring others," the Miami-based artist said. "My passion is creating environmental emissaries."
Tampa Preparatory students involved in the Environmental Club and the human rights club STAND petitioned school officials to invite Cortada to the school. Cortada, a college friend of Tampa Prep teacher Dominick Giombetti, is known for his participatory art projects dealing with social issues.
His work at the school is twofold. He is creating a painted mural of mangroves that incorporates self-portraits of students represented as mangrove seedlings with notes about the kind of person they strive to be.
"An artist, a voice for justice, a giving heart and an advocate for the people," junior Keith Joseph, 16, said of his self-portrait. "These are all the things I want to embody and that this project embodies."
The mural is set to debut Oct. 23 and will be displayed permanently at the school, 727 W. Cass St.
"The central message is to stop indifference," said Mallika Dubey, a senior and STAND board member.
Dubey is one of the students participating in part two of Cortada's partnership with the school. The Reclamation Project asks students and community members to restore habitats by planting native trees in urban areas and mangroves in coastal habitats.
Cortada has launched the project in four counties: Miami-Dade, Martin, Pinellas (at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo) and now Hillsborough.
Dubey helped gather 440 mangrove seedlings, about one for every Upper School student, at Weedon Island Preserve on Sept. 22 with the help of Thomas Smith, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
Back on campus, they planted the seedlings in plastic cups and installed them on the windows of the main campus building. In April, Cortada hopes to transplant the seedlings in Tampa Bay, corresponding with Smith's research.
In the display, which stretches about 15 feet high, the green, cigar-shaped seedlings are living, contemporary art - the sun glints through the 440 cups of water, grabbing the attention of passers-by.
"We have put these very natural things in very unnatural, nonbiodegradable plastic cups," Cortada told the students. "It demonstrates the difference between nature and man-made things, changing the way we think about our relationship with the world.
"You are creating a habitat here for these seedlings," he said. "Why does it matter? We are part of one world, and we are responsible for taking care of it."
Cortada was brought to Tampa Prep through its Visiting Artists Fund, a program supported by the annual Nights on Broadway fundraiser underwritten by Cathy and Bob Smith.
Teacher and Environmental Club sponsor Mary Beth Hill said the club is working to make the Reclamation Project a school tradition, with freshmen planting native trees and seniors planting mangroves.
"At Tampa Prep, we've got so many kids that have it in them; this just gives them that extra push," said senior Dori Levy, president of STAND. "This helps them see there is more than just hanging out. This is a higher purpose than self."
RETURN TO NATURE
To learn more about the Reclamation Project, go to www .reclamationproject.net.
Reporter Jamie Pilarczyk can be reached at (813) 259-7661.