Democracy (is an action verb): Turning political yard signs into personal action steps to animate democracy


After the election on November 6th, 2018, take the partisan political yard signs from your front lawn and paint them with that paint that converts the surface into a chalkboard.    Transform those old political signs into messages announcing their personal action steps to build a more perfect Union.  Using chalk, write what you commit to doing–now that the election is behind you– to continue to activate our democracy.  

Five days later, on Sunday, November 11th,  from 10am to noon (during the Farmer’s Market), Cortada invites the community members to bring their converted political yard signs with them to his Pinecrest Gardens studio.  

There will be some blank chalkboard signs in the studio for participants to activate with the help of FIU Honors College students.

Our contribution to this democracy doesn’t end on election day.  The democratic process continues day after day in our words and deeds through the entire year. 


Xavier Cortada, “Democracy (is an action verb),” chalk on chalkboard, 2017





Artist Statement

At noon, on January 20th, 2017, I led fellow Miamians participating in the performance of “Oath.”  On a Wynwood street, they read the full text of the United States Constitution out loud.  Together, they took the Oath of Citizen.  I then had them speak their favorite clause from the document they had just read into a water-filled glass and stir it.  They drank the words  with the water, incorporating the document into their very being.
Last year, I created the “Democracy (is an action verb)” art piece as a gift to my city.   It is an owner’s manual —a path teaching us how to care for the breathing, living document we pledged to preserve, protect and defend on Inauguration Day. 
Many Miamians come from countries where democracy and the rule of law has failed or is failing. Growing up here, I always imagined our city’s outstretched arms welcoming them (as tehy did my parents).  Taking them in, bestowing them with gifts of freedom, democracy.   To me, democracy was like sunshine: Gifts we had in abundance. It was a given for all of us.  
But, as I grew older and as I’ve seen my nation grow more and more polarized, I’ve realized that its not quite true.  Freedom is not eternal.  Rights can erode. Democracy is difficult, fragile, vulnerable.  Democracy is hard work.  Its not a thing we get by virtue of being American.  But, because we are American, an activity we continuously engage in.
Through my socially engaged practice, I attempt to develop work that helps audiences see themselves as protagonists, problem-solvers. Here, I challenge them to be the change they want to see, to work together to build a more perfect Union.  To animate democracy.
By asking individuals to conjugate democracy as if it were a verb, I ask them to take action to make democracy happen.  And by conjugating the other pronouns, I ask them to engage and also hold all others accountable.
You democracy
He/she democracies
We democracy
You democracy
They democracy


Xavier Cortada



Earlier works
The work took two similar earlier pieces as a point of departure:

Peace (is an action verb), 2007 -- Xavier Cortada

Xavier Cortada, “Peace (is an action verb),” chalk on blackboard, 10″ x 8″, 2006

Justice (is an action verb), 2007 -- Xavier Cortada

Xavier Cortada, “Justice (is an action verb),” chalk on blackboard, 10″ x 8″, 2006

“Florida is… Wildflowers” at Miami Children’s Museum


Miami artist Xavier Cortada will lead children in creating a participatory eco-art project in support of the pollinators.  Inspired by his FLOR500 project (, kids at the Miami Children Museum will work collaboratively to create a large art piece of a native wildflower.  They will then take wildflower seeds and place them in envelopes.  Visitors will be invited to take a piece of the flower drawing home if they promise to plant the wildflower seeds in their garden.   “Each of us has a role in helping shape Florida’s natural history,” said Cortada.  “We can help reclaim nature, one yard at a time, by planting wildflower gardens to support our pollinators.”  Cortada hopes his art piece will help educate individuals about the importance of Florida’s ecosystems and encourage better environmental stewardship.

Wildflowers, with help of their pollinators, help make Earth verdant:  Plant life sustains all animals (including humans) and balance atmospheric gases (that accelerate global climate change). Wildflowers would naturally continue to blanket our planet were it not for the displacement caused by the concrete we’ve poured ‐‐ and the parcels we’ve platted ‐‐ to build our homes and grow our society. Help reverse the trend:  Show us your wild side. Plant wildflowers in your yard.”
— Xavier Cortada

About the Artist: 

Xavier Cortada serves as Artist-in-Residence at FIU School of Environment, Arts and Society | College of Arts, Science & Education and the College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts.

Cortada often engages scientists in his art-making: At CERN, Cortada and a particle physicist created a permanent digital-art piece to celebrate the Higgs boson discovery. He has collaborated with a population geneticist to explore our ancestral journeys out of Africa 60,000-years ago, with a molecular biologist to synthesize a DNA strand from a sequence 400 museum visitors randomly generated, and with botanists to develop multi-year participatory eco-art efforts to reforest mangrovesnative trees and wildflowers across Florida.

The Miami artist has created environmental installations (North Pole and South Pole) and eco-art (TaiwanHawaii and Hollandprojects, and painted community murals addressing peace (Cyprus and Northern Ireland), child welfare  (Bolivia and Panama), AIDS (Switzerland and South Africa) and juvenile justice (Miami and Philadelphia) concerns.

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