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To feel beauty without seeing it

By Cristina Pravia
--The Miami Herald Neighbors, Miami, Florida, July 4, 1996


Danny Chavez is ready for action. His black sneakers are protected by two plastic bags. He is wearing a black long- sleeved shirt. He grabs a small brush and with circular strokes applies orange paint to the wall.

Danny is one of 12 youth at Miami Lighthouse for the Blind's summer program who painted a mural on the organization's storage shed earlier this week. The project was designed to
allow the children to use their creativity and artistic expression.
Lighthouse, an educational and vocational facility based in Little Havana, helps visually impaired or blind adults and children get around in a sight-oriented world. The summer program also teaches kids Braille, how to use computers and how to walk with a cane. They learn how to "see" with their other senses.

The mural project was directed by Miami artist Xavier Cortada.

"Out of all the murals I've done in four continents, this has been the most challenging," said Cortada, 31. "It's an empowerment process for the kids. As visual artists, we rely on our eyes to create and we always fear what would happen to our ability to create if we became visually impaired."

When Cortada walked into the room full of kids and suggested painting, some did not want to go outside. To make the kids more comfortable and as a learning experience, Cortada walked around blindfolded.

That broke down some barriers and the class was more open to the idea of mixing water-based paint and splashing it on the shed's wall to create a mural.

"I thought it wasn't interesting," said Danny, 12, who has been blind since birth. "But then I said I better try it. It's wonderful, terrific and nice."

Streaks of green, white, blue, yellow adorned the facade. Shells, stones and rings were cemented on to add texture. The kids even left handprints on the wall. It took about eight hours to complete the work of art.

Laquanyia Davis, 7, splashed mustard-colored paint on the wall and got some on her neck and shirt, just barely missing her eyeglasses. She just laughed.

"It's wonderful," said Anju Khubchandani, a Lighthouse counselor. "A lot of them need to get their frustrations out and to express themselves."

Although Lighthouse plans to start construction on an expansion in January, the shed -- or at least the mural -- probably will stay, said Richard DeCair, development director at Lighthouse, 601 SW Eighth Ave.

When it was time to stop painting, Anmyr Cruz, 9, did not want to quit. She completely submerged her hands in the yellow paint bucket and splashed the walls. Then she took black, blue and lavender and did the same.

"How do you feel about that?" Cortada asked the young artist.

"Good," said Anmyr as a big smile spread over her face.