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High Schoolers Put On Collaborative Exhibit In Miami Design District

The artwork at Locust Projects Gallery in the Design District plays with Miami stereotypes.

A palm tree smelling of coconut oil rests on a hammock. In the corner, the static of a television set resembles the sound of waves crashing on the shore. Opposite that lie deconstructed items taken from a strip club.

Twenty high school students made these and other works as part of the sixth-annual summer program, Locust Art Builders or LAB. LAB allows young artists from Miami-Dade County to create their own exhibition, which opened July 11.

“It was a little introduction into what it means to be an artist,” says Matthew Alvarez, an incoming senior at TERRA Environmental Research Institute in Kendall. 

Credit Alexander Gonzalez / WLRN
Matthew Alvarez focused on this deconstructed piece of items found at a strip club. He collaborated with 19 other young artists to build an exhibition based on Miami images and stories.

Over three weeks, students collaborated with one another and learned from Miami-based contemporary artists Monica Lopez de Victoria and Clifton Childree.

The mentors discussed the ups and downs of a career as a professional artist. Students also heard from guest speakers in the art world.

Lopez says it’s all about learning to “connect the dots” – the possible paths needed for students to fulfill their artistic goals.

“You don’t know usually what the steps are between all of that,” she says.

Lopez helped start the program in 2009 and has been involved each year.

“It’s pretty much my baby,” she says. “It’s really what I wish I had when I was their age.”

Lopez tells students that collaborating with 19 other artists to build an exhibition is “one of the hardest things you’ve done for a very long time.”

Alvarez says he experienced this first-hand.

“It’s not even rare, it’s almost impossible,” says Alvarez, who has always taken art electives since middle school.

Though most students contributed to the general exhibition, some focused on certain pieces. 

Alvarez worked on the deconstructed sculpture of items from a strip club. Kelly Eriksen, a recent graduate of Palmer Trinity School in Palmetto Bay, helped create flamingo sculptures.


Kelly Eriksen helped create these flamingo sculptures. They accompany artwork inspired by Miami's palm trees and beaches.

Eriksen says she grew more confident throughout the program. She had not done anything like Locust before. 

“I learned a lot more about myself and the fact that I’m able to work with other people,” says Eriksen, who will attend the Rhode Island School of Design in the fall.

Others like Ezekiel Binns began to second-guess their future plans after working at Locust. He had planned on leaving Design and Architecture Senior High this fall to attend the School of Advanced Studies at Miami-Dade College, a dual-enrollment program.

“I think I may change my mind," he says. "This was kind of a deciding factor." 

Binns concentrated on the palm tree in the hammock. He says he has worked with a professional artist who had a recent show at the Locust Gallery.

Lopez sits on the jury that chooses the students. She says she looks for more than “perfect technique.”


Ezekiel Binns spent a lot of time working with the palm tree resting on a hammock. Students wanted to make the piece performance art but realized it wouldn't feasible given the tree's weight.

“We’re looking for everything,” she adds. “You kind of want some soul in there.”

Lopez has been working as a professional artist for 14 years. She has toured around the world but chose to stay in Miami. She says programs like Locust ensure that the new generation contributes to Miami’s growing art scene.

“These guys teach me things all the time,” she says. “They’re the next artists that are going to be making the future happen in Miami.”

The LAB exhibit is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday until Aug. 8. For more information, visit locustprojects.org.

Alexander Gonzalez produces the afternoon newscasts airing during All Things Considered. He enjoys helping tell the South Florida story through audio and digital platforms. Alex is interested in a little of everything from business to culture to politics.