'Something magical': Miami-Dade students get inspiration from local artists at Vizcaya
Hundreds of Miami-Dade County high schoolers got a breath of fresh air this week, leaving the classroom behind to spend a day with local artists at the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens on the shores of Biscayne Bay.
The second annual Creative Vizcaya program was a chance for students to experience one of Miami’s signature historic sites as well as find inspiration for their own art — and maybe even their careers.
Painter and sculptor Mark Herrera was one of the local artists who guided a class this week as hundreds of students visited Vizcaya.
He said art teachers and volunteers saw his potential and encouraged him to nurture his own creative spirit when he was younger. That encouragement helped put Herrera on the path he’s on today — pursuing his MFA at Florida International University.
So when Herrera heard about the program at Vizcaya bringing together local artists and high school students, he had to get involved.
“Anytime I get a chance to work with young people, especially when it comes to art … I think most people should take those opportunities,” Herrera said.
On Wednesday, Herrera led an art class on Vizcaya’s bayfront terrace for students from Booker T. Washington Senior High School.
Speaking in Spanish, he told the students how what is now Florida was once submerged under the ocean — home to ancient coral reefs and aquatic animals that have been preserved in the coral rock that the historic Vizcaya estate is built out of.
“When they made Vizcaya, they didn’t have marble like they had in Europe. But they had limestone,” Herrera explained.
Using quick-drying clay, Herrera showed the students how to take impressions of the limestone floors, pillars and balustrades of the terrace, using the echoes of the ancient underwater world to make their own new designs.
“It’s like Atlantis,” one student exclaimed.
“Exactly!” Herrera said. “That’s very interesting.”
The students didn’t waste any time — hopping out of their seats to get to work while Herrera was still giving his spiel.
“They are ready to go. They didn’t even let me finish,” he said with a laugh. “Bueno. ¡Disfruten!”
Vizcaya’s school programs manager, Gabriella Roman, said part of the motivation for the Creative Vizcaya program was the recognition of “how needed it was for students to step out of the classroom and just have time to be creative.”
“The expectations of what they need to do in school and outside of school are really high,” Roman said. “So for us to be able to just bring them into Vizcaya and just give them time to really do art, connect with each other and connect with the space … that was really important to us.”
Roman hopes that by working with the local artists, all of whom are MFA students at FIU, the high schoolers will be able to see new paths for themselves — in higher education and in art.
Willmer Alvarez is a senior at Booker T. Washington Senior High. He says spending time at the sprawling tropical gardens of Vizcaya was a needed break during a stressful time.
"Because all the tests, all the finishing classes ... it's a really difficult time. But this is a good break," he said. "I think it's a really good opportunity for us."
It was senior Jose Rivas' first time to Vizcaya. The aspiring architect says he was blown away by the historic estate.
"It's really incredible ... My passion is architecture," he said. "This is a real experience for me."
Twelfth grader Angie Sanchez says she found inspiration here that she can use in her own creations — even if she doesn’t pursue art professionally.
“I like mixed media. I like to experiment with everything that I have,” she said. “I'm not sure yet, but if I don't do like a career, I'm gonna do it for myself.”
Mark Herrera says that’s the lesson he hopes students will take away from the program: that inside each of them is a creator.
“Maybe they don't see themselves as an artist,” he said, “but in the work of your hands and material … something magical happens.”