In 2006, artist Xavier Cortada launched the “Reclamation Project” by working with volunteers to create vertical gardens (grid-like installations of mangrove seedlings in clear, water-filled cups dangling on retail windows) across Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road and then later planting them along Biscayne Bay. This effort pioneered eco-art in South Florida and launched Cortada’s eco-art practice. These successful habitat restoration activities continue today through the Frost Science Museum’s Museum Volunteers for the Environment (MUVE) program.
Since the inception of the “Reclamation Project,” over 8,000 volunteers have restored more than 25 acres of coastal habitats. An iteration of this project focused on planting salt-tolerant trees inland in preparation for saltwater intrusion, “Plan(T),” saw eco-art installations and programming in all 45 of Miami-Dade County’s public libraries and dozens of schools. The culmination of these efforts recently earned Cortada the Environmental Law Institute’s 2021 “Wetlands Hero Award.”
Inspired by his 2003 “Florida Mangrove” Hispanic Heritage Mural (which Governor Bush unveiled at the Capitol), Cortada led 800 volunteers in painting the “Miami Mangrove Forest” in 2004. A metaphoric reforestation of downtown Miami, they painted Cortada’s images of mangrove seedlings on dozens of columns beneath I-95, each seedling functioning as a visual metaphor of the immigrant: floating to a new shore, putting down roots and contributing to a fertile new home community. Two years later, after witnessing the destruction of mangrove forests on a trip to the Florida Keys, Cortada created the “Reclamation Project.”