Xavier Cortada’s ‘Science Art’ Brings Attention to Sea Level Rise in Miami

By Theresa Pinto M.S., Contributing Reporter

MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – Xavier Cortada was born in Albany, NY, grew up in Miami from the age of three, and now works out of the Art and Art History Department on the Coral Gables campus of the University of Miami. However, he is not really an art historian, but rather a Professor of Practice.

Cortada blends science, art, activism, and community to bring a message on sea level rise, photo courtesy Xavier Cortada.

What Cortada practices is ‘science art’ oriented towards raising awareness about sea level rise and other environmental concerns. He does this by creating collaborative art installations borrowing from activism and involving high levels of community engagement.

His last community art collaboration, Underwater HOA, made a big splash. He engaged the Village of Pinecrest (where he is mainly based outside of the University) to ask other homeowners in the greater Miami area to create painted yard signs featuring a blue wave and the sea level elevation of their homes in order to motivate local action on sea level rise.

What that action entails is not clear, but Cortada is not shy about his thoughts on managed retreat. When asked about how Dorian’s impact on the Bahamas has affected his thoughts on managing sea level rise on Miami Beach, he says, “I felt the same exact way before Dorian, [sic] that our days are numbered.”

He later continues, “And this is particularly hard for someone [to say] who has only called Miami home [but] I’m pretty confident that Miami as a place will not exist in a hundred years.”

Mostly, Cortada’s message is sea level rise and other harmful impacts of climate change are inevitable, and South Floridians will need to migrate, much less mitigate and adapt.

To Cortada then, it is more important to ensure the process by which we get there is sustainably planned and equitable for its people. “[We] need to start planning for what I know will be millions of people who will not live on the ‘island of Brickell Ridge’,” referring to the point of highest elevation that will become an island with current projected levels of sea level rise.

Cortada’s other collaborations brought him as far as the North and South Poles, and to the CERN Laboratory in Geneva in front of their Large Hadron Collider. But locally, it started with the mangrove Reclamation Project on Miami Beach in 2006, running until 2012.

The mangroves propagules, sprouted in cups along Lincoln Road, Ocean Drive and Alton Road, then showcased during Art Basel 2006 at the Scope Art Fair, were eventually relocated to the old Frost Science Museum site near Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, photo courtesy of Xavier Cortada.

The mangroves propagules, sprouted in cups along Lincoln Road, Ocean Drive and Alton Road, then showcased during Art Basel 2006 at the Scope Art Fair, were eventually relocated to the old Frost Science Museum site near Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.

He is relaunching the project this year, under Plan(T), again along Lincoln Road, Ocean Drive and Alton Road and continuing into Art Basel 2019, but also expanding Plan(T) into all fifty Miami-Dade County public libraries and twenty-five of the County’s public schools.

In that vein, the other main push in Cortada’s Practice is empowering community members to take action in their own neighborhoods. And now as a University Professor, empowering students, like Adam Roberti, a University graduate student and Cortada’s new Program Manager for Cortada Projects.

Roberti plans “to continue my work with Xavier and grow Cortada Projects to have an international reach. Along the way, I hope to forge my own path as a social practitioner and develop new projects with Xavier as a co-creator.”

Cortada Projects and Plan(T) will officially open on September 26th at Pinecrest Gardens.