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Local artist, students create `master peace'

Herald Writer
--Published on Sunday, May 23, 1999, in The Miami Herald

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The kids at Coral Way Elementary are finding that the key to the future lies in the past.

The 20 or so second-graders are part of a pilot program called Master Peace, aimed at showing youngsters how to communicate their ideas through artistic expression.

Coral Way and three other elementary schools -- Palmetto, Richmond and Key Biscayne -- have teamed kids with local artist Xavier Cortada to identify and discuss social issues that will inspire artwork.

Coral Way's project is ``Exploring Community Through Memory.''

The students are talking to their parents and grandparents about childhood memories, looking for common threads.

``Each of you has memories of your childhood that your parents had in their childhood,'' Cortada explained to the students Thursday. ``What that means is that you're not much different from them.''

Part of this school's project is to create a ``dual picture.'' This is where half of the drawing is about a parent's memory and the other half depicts how students can relate that memory to their own lives.

For example, a student of Italian descent drew a portrait of himself in front of his school; the other half of the drawing shows his dad as a schoolboy in front of the Tower of Pisa.

``The project is about the memories, it's about the history of my dad and mom, and it's about art, too,'' said 8-year-old student Jorge Rovirosa.

``Their parents' memories are theirs too,'' said Gloria Knowles, an art teacher at Coral Way, 1950 SW 13th Ave.

Cortada visits the students several times throughout the Master Peace session and incorporates other concepts, such as geography and history, into the discussion and the art the students make.

``The important message is that it's second-graders in the class teaching the rest of the school, not Xavier Cortada teaching the second-graders,'' said Cortada.

The completed artwork will be exhibited in a virtual gallery and the originals will be combined into an 8-foot by 10-foot collage-mural that Cortada will create to be displayed at the school.

Two cameras will film Cortada as he creates the collage from the students' original artwork in his studio and cybercast it. Throughout the school, students will be watching the project on the televisions and chatting on the Internet with Cortada.

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``This project focuses more on the Internet rather traditional painting,'' said Cortada. ``The individual drawings will exist only in cyberspace.''

In addition to the gallery, the web site will include a Discussion Forum -- a collection of the stories and memories the students wrote to explain the artwork.

``The Internet is a new medium for art,'' Cortada said. ``It is used to open up their minds.''

Eight schools have completed art projects through the Master Peace Program, which was initiated at the beginning of the school year.

In addition to Coral Way, three other schools will have completed projects by June 4.

Palmetto is working on ``School Pride;'' Key Biscayne Community School is doing ``Keep Key Biscayne Beautiful'' and Richmond students are focusing on animals and the environment.

``Art is the universal language, it can transcend any barrier,'' Cortada said.