A classroom at Georgia Jones-Ayers Middle School in Allapattah bears a plaque reading “Arts Lab.” But the paints, brushes, and canvasses disappeared years ago. Now it’s a detention center.
“They don’t have an arts program because they don’t have the funding for it,” said Fernando Cosme, an artist and the founder of LoveDub, an organ donation non-profit. “It’s ironic that they don’t fund arts programs, but penalize children in underserved communities to keep them from getting in trouble.”
Growing up in an impoverished neighborhood in Brooklyn, Cosme remembers that art, specifically the neighborhood’s graffitied walls “inspired [him] to think.” He says this helped him rise above many challenges, including being diagnosed with cancer years ago and getting a heart transplant a year and a half ago.
So, nine months ago, when Miami native Britni Garcia asked Cosme to help her bring art into the under-resourced middle school, he jumped at the opportunity.
Garcia works with the school as a program manager for City Year Miami, an organization that works with passionate college graduates and trains them to teach in urban, high-poverty public schools. She raised more than $5,000 from various banks and anonymous donors for supplies while Cosme assembled a crew of 15 local artists to donate their time and talents.
Together they created an artistic revolution in the middle school — transforming its drab white walls from a dull monotone into a mural-covered mini-Wynwood.
Cosme’s mural is simple, a black wall with the bold orange letters reading “Rise Above.”
Another piece is by by John Leverton, an artist and program manager at City Year that features a colorful spaceship on its way to the moon, which is meant to inspire students to look beyond their limitations.
“Walls are what you see as the limits of your reach,” added Leverton. “If we produce walls that are imaginative … the students will be too.”
While the murals were just completed last Friday, as they slowly went up over the course of nine months Garcia saw a shift in the students. They were developing a sense of pride “they didn’t have previously,” she said.
Now, “the kids come to school everyday and they’re like ‘Wow, our school looks like Wynwood’,” she laughed.