A mural tests the will of at-risk youth and local artist

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Entertainment News & Views

August 29, 1997

By Frank Alvaredo


Along sixth street and eighth avenue in Little Havana is an eye catching and though provoking mural done by a mix of neighborhood kids with a powerful lesson for the South Florida community. The mural entitled “New Visions” is a construction wall for the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and it depicts how at-risk youths and blind children came together to sow a little love for their “barrio”. The project was conceived by local artist Xavier Cortada with a community grant from the Miami Cultural Affairs Council.

This was not the first time Cortada had been involved with children from the Lighthouse, established in 1931. A year earlier he and the blind children put up a mural on the side of a small house in the facility. The experience was an eye-opener for Cortada because he never believed that a blind person could actually conceive visual art. “I thought they were sick,” affirmed Cortada “I felt they were exploiting little blind children.” Yet after taking the tour of the Lighthouse in which he saw blind people learning how to adapt to their disability by cleaning rooms, making their beds, cooking dinners, weaving beds, etc., Cortada had his viewpoint changed. The mural was completed and titled “A New Hope”. He also pointed out blind children would listen carefully to the brush strokes and feeling the whole process of painting.

Roughly a year later, the idea arose to paint the construction wall that was erected for the new million dollar expansion to the facility. Xavier felt that it should be something that informed the community about what goes on behind the walls of the Lighthouse. For this, he brought in at-risk teenagers from Regis House and Abriendo Puertas. For Cortada it was an opportunity for these youths to see children with a disability adjusting to the harsh realities of life and maybe take a different view about life. “The wall challenges people to see life in a different light. Its about adapting and meeting a challenge head-first. If the blind kids can do something positive then so can the at-risk youth.” said Cortada.

In order for the at-risk youths to comprehend the ideas and the values at the Lighthouse, they were given a personal tour, just like Cortada, of the facilities. They saw first hand what it is like to live with a disability. Many of them began to let down their guard and their bravado when they saw how well-adjusted many of the blind people were. According to Cortada, many of these kids got a true sense of what it means to help your fellow neighbor. “What happened is that they developed a higher sensitivity and a higher perspective about the reality around them.” Cortada said.

After a week of absorbing and analyzing what they had seen, the at-risk youths, Cortada, and the Lighthouse Children got their paint buckets, brushes, and water hoses and began their work. The final work was completed on Tuesday, Aug. 12. What was painted evoked some very strong messages of meeting challenges head-on in life. A large part of the wall was done by the Lighthouse children which contains various bright colors and shapes resembling crosses, stars, dogs, houses, and boats. Atop of the various colors the words “If blind children can paint, what couldn’t you do?” in Spanish.

Other parts of the mural feature numerous hand prints in vibrant colors over a blue house that represents the Lighthouse. The children from the Regis house painted a blind man with his seeing eye dog, a young man cooking his dinner and a young woman typing on a computer surrounding the words “Somos iguales” (we are the same) using two detailed eyes as O’s. Next to that is a mural done by Abriendo Puertas which depicts a young blind man by the name Elijah sewing a red blanket. Next to him, written in Spanish and English, the words “Blind People can sew”.

Yet probably the most powerful image is the one at the end, which has two eyes over the world with the words “We can see you too.” To Cortada those words say to the community that blind people can find a purpose in life and so can others. “It gives people on the outside an idea of what goes on behind these walls.” said a very animated and sincere Cortada. “Hopefully anyone who drives by here and is depressed and sees this wall, maybe they will find hope.” This artistic endeavor is one of many that Xavier Cortada has been involved with. He uses his talent with concern for social and political issues and has painted all over the world. The painted mural will remain up for another year until construction is completed on the expansion.

The Lighthouse for the Blind welcomes all sight-impaired individuals into their program and always welcomes volunteers. The Lighthouse is located at 601 Southwest Eighth Avenue. You may also call 305-856-2288 for more information.