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Home is where the art is--Kids from public housing draw on experiences

Herald Writer
--Published on Sunday, August 1, 1999, in The Miami Herald


For eight weeks, Damali Charles bargained with her band teacher at Booker T. Washington Middle to let her indulge in another fine art. Shamika James skipped basketball practice. And Whitney Drake got out of after-school tutoring.

Along with 20 other children from the Wynwood Youth Group, they decided to paint art instead.

``I knew that this was going to be good for me,'' said Damali, 13. For the trade-off, Damali agreed to encourage other students to play in the school's band. ``It was worth it.''

Their work was unveiled Wednesday at the Public Art Transforming Housing celebration in Wynwood. The yearlong countywide program draws children from public housing to create art with nine professional artists. The results are later displayed in the facilities.

Kids between 5 and 17 years old can participate.

``Art changes the human condition,'' said Xavier Cortada, the program's artistic director. ``With their art, kids feel that they have a sense of ownership. This is about feeling connected to the neighborhood.''

Wynwood is the first of nine sites that will be completed by June 2000. The others will be in Homestead, Modello, Goulds, Scott Homes, Liberty Square, Rainbow Village, Annie Coleman Homes and possibly Venetian Gardens.

A millennium mural -- combination of all the countywide projects -- will be unveiled next year also, said Vivian Donnell Rodriguez, the executive director of Miami-Dade Art in Public Places, one of five county agencies that sponsor the effort.

``If you do just one [site], that's great,'' Rodriguez said. ``But we wanted a whole project that would impact several sites. We're using art as a means of making kids feel good about themselves and positive about their future.''

The art sessions are designed to get kids to talk about drug abuse, violence and gangs in their neighborhoods. Some of the art assignments include creating portraits of elderly friends and drawings of people who protect them from drugs.

The eight-week class held on Mondays and Wednesdays usually began with the students holding hands and discussing their day and deciding on art pieces, Cortada said.

``Art is a great social tool,'' he said at the unveiling ceremony Wednesday. ``It can become a window to talk about drugs and violence.''