The Art of Inclusion

A CHILDREN'S COLLAGE AT University of Miami School of Medicine/Mailman Center for Child Development’s Debbie School

Xavier Cortada, The Art of Inclusion: A Children’s Collage, 48 x 108, mixed-media on canvas, 2000.


Creation of a collaborative mural that allows children with normal developmental abilities to work together with their peers who have varying disabilities such as hearing impairment, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and genetic disorders. The University of Miami Mailman Center/Debbie School children and their families will join staff in this effort co-sponsored by the St. Stephen’s Art Festival and the Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Council. The project begins February 2000 at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital Complex, Miami, FL.


Community artist Xavier Cortada will design the mural in collaboration with one hundred and twenty-seven children who attend the Debbie School. Family members and staff will also contribute to the mural. Over a three-week period, Mr. Cortada will work with the children on a daily basis to teach them about the magic of artistic expression. This experience will allow the children to learn about the value of both teamwork and independence.

The Debbie School, an inclusive school, provides a unique educational experience for young children with special needs and for those whose development is typical in an environment where adaptations are made to accommodate all students. The school houses three integrated programs: a) Early Intervention Program for children under three with developmental delays and/or disabilities, b) Child Care Program for typically developing children under five, and c) Program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children who range in age from two to eight.

The children enrolled are from multiethnic backgrounds: Hispanic (39%), Black American (24%), White (23%), Haitian (9%), and Asian (5%).

The purpose of the project will be to create an art mural and art gallery composed of the artistic contributions of children, families, and staff under the guidance of Xavier Cortada, an internationally recognized artist who has used his art as an agent of social change in four continents. He has worked with the Lighthouse for the Blind, the Cuban American National Council’s Little Havana Institute, and the Mailman Center for Child Development. The mural and individual works of art suitable for framing will be conceptualized and painted during the months of January and early February 2000 at the Debbie School. A photographer will capture images of the process in photographs and on videotape.

The project will provide the opportunity to demonstrate that children with normal developmental abilities can work together with their peers who have varying disabilities such as hearing impairment, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and genetic disorders. The central theme of the mural will be to communicate the message of inclusion through art. Viewers will be inspired to visualize children with disabilities as an integral part of an inclusive society.

The completed mural and gallery will be showcased in the Debbie School and will be a daily reminder to the children, their families, and community visitors that inclusion provides opportunities for all children. When the project is completed, an unveiling ceremony will be organized to include all project participants as well as members of the community. The mural will then be exhibited at the St. Stephen’s Coconut Grove Art and Craft Show. Posters of the mural will be available to increase the community’s awareness of inclusion. This project merits County funding because local, state, and federal agencies as well as the parents of children with special needs endorse the philosophy of inclusion. Through this art project the message of inclusion will be delivered to the community at large. The Art of Inclusion: A Children’s Collage will represent a celebration of harmony among children whose needs are as diverse as their cultural backgrounds.