High school students, local artist create Web master`peace’

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The Miami Herald

December 12, 1999

By Tanya Somaroo

Art students at five Miami-Dade high schools didn’t use paints or pencils to create the art for their latest project. They used the Internet.Working from their own school, they directed local artist Xavier Cortada as he collaged their artwork into a mural in his Little Havana studio using his unique WebStudio process. Two Web cameras in Cortada’s studio allow students to see the canvas he works on and an on-line chat room allows them to direct his placement of the paint and pencil drawings they had completed earlier.The students were involved in Master-Peace 2000, an art-based Internet-supported project in which they explore the past millennium in preparation for the new one.Each school focused on a different century and tried to interpret the lessons humanity has learned through art and essays.MAST Academy selected the 20th Century and worked on issues relating to the ocean and environmental issues, including over-fishing, underwater nuclear testing and the Exxon Valdez disaster.Coral Gables High explored the 14th Century and focused on inventions, such as the mechanical clock and weapons of war, and how the plague parallels the 20th Century AIDS epidemic.Killian High chose the 18th Century and focused on the American Revolution and the Enlightenment.Miami Beach High worked on the 19th Century and focused on improvements in transportation, the Civil War and slavery.Design and Architecture Senior High chose the 16th Century and explored the contributions made by Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci, the Spanish Inquisition and the conquest of the Inca and Aztec empires.All of the students’ work will become the basis of murals created in collaboration with Cortada using his WebStudio process.The artist and activist has worked on 12 other projects with Miami-Dade County Public Schools and has created murals with street kids in Bolivia and AIDS patients in Geneva.The Master-Peace 2000 project is a collaboration between Miami-Dade County Public Schools Division of Life Skills, Miami-Dade Art in Public Places and Regis House, a nonprofit community center that helps children and families.Lilia Garcia, director of the Division of Life Skills for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, said she decided to bring this project to the schools because she felt Cortada could provide students with a great deal of insight.“He’s so good at getting the kids to express their feelings and at bringing [together] technology, history and art,” Garcia said.“The Internet symbolizes technology and the new millennium. It’s a relevant way of communicating. It would have been dated to just do [the mural] on a wall,” said Cortada, explaining his reasons for combining art with Internet technology. “The most important feature of the Internet is that it’s global. It becomes timeless.”Cortada assisted with the group discussions and helped students focus on a theme for their artwork and essays as they explored the contributions scientists, politicians, philosophers, artists and explorers made during the century they selected.“I told them not to focus on what we could find on Britannica.com, but to give their opinions,” Cortada said.When the students finished their work, Cortada began his. He collected all of the art and essays and downloaded them onto the MasterPeace 2000 Web site. Students were then able to log on to the Web site where they could see their individual work displayed.The murals completed this semester at Beach High, Design and Architecture Senior High, Coral Gables High, Killian and Mast Academy will be displayed at First Night Miami Beach at the Miami Beach Convention Center on New Year’s Eve. The exhibit will include access to the MasterPeace 2000 Web site and viewers will be able to revisit the entire process. The site is divided by century with each century containing individual exhibits of every student’s drawing or essay and logs of the WebStudio sessions with the schools.The remaining five centuries of the millennium will be addressed next semester at five other schools.The Web site is already up and running. Visitors can log on to watch the WebStudio sessions, read the on-line conversations between Cortada and the students or comment on the students’ work through the discussion forum. Not only will students be able to read what others think of their essays and artwork, but they also can respond to those comments and establish a dialogue with people from all over the world.“It becomes a living, breathing thing,” Cortada said. “That’s how I approach art. When they go to college next year, the kids will be able to go to their dorm room and pull this up on their computer.”In January, the murals will be returned to each school and after a dedication ceremony will be on permanent display. Cortada said this will create a bond between the students and the school, a feeling of ownership and community that is hard to find in society today.As he signed off from his last WebStudio session with the students from Miami Beach, Cortada said, “Hopefully, this activity will serve as inspiration for you, the people of the third millennium.”