The Underwater: Using Art to Engage Communities Around Climate Action


This Article delves into the intersection of art and environmental activism, with a focus on the impact of climate change. Cortada, both an artist and trained attorney, re-counts his three-decade journey leveraging art to inspire community engagement and address social and environmental challenges. He explains how Antarctic researchers made him aware of South Florida\u27s vulnerability to sea level rise, leading to the development of interactive art projects that foster civic engagement and climate advocacy. The Article also addresses the challenges posed by climate denial and misinformation, emphasizing the need for creative strategies to combat these issues. Cortada introduces specific participatory art initiatives he has crafted to visualize South Florida’s vulnerability to rising seas and to ignite dialogue and action on climate change. He details a range of projects, including The Underwater, Underwater HOA, Elevation Drive, Underwater Vote, and HELLO, which all effectively employ art to render climate change a personal and pressing matter for communities. This law review Article is an innovation in and of itself, serving simultaneously as an exhibition of “Underwater Florida,” a performative artwork Cortada created in 2022 to document the fraught state of coastal cities along the Florida peninsula. It showcases images of yard signs that the artist placed in front of 54 Florida city halls to mark their respective elevations, thereby recording this moment in the state\u27s history and sharing information with its residents to encourage policymakers to prepare for a future with rising seas. In mapping elevations along Florida\u27s coastline to underscore the threat of sea level rise, Cortada acts as a sentinel, witness, neighbor, informant, educator, science communicator, and advocate, and as a figurative bridge between the potential victims of tomorrow and today\u27s contributors to climate harm. The inclusion of “Underwater Florida” in the law review Article exemplifies the innovative format, which transcends traditional academic boundaries to captivate its audience. This symbiotic relationship between art and academic discourse is a testament to their combined strength in conveying urgent messages about climate action. Cortada\u27s efforts extend to transforming public spaces into platforms for climate storytelling and fostering interdisciplinary engagement in regional governments, demonstrating art\u27s potency in stimulating public discourse and prompting action on climate change. The Article concludes by reinforcing the essential role of art in fostering a culture of care and activism, crucial for preserving our planet and its inhabitants in the face of a climate crisis

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This paper was published in University of Miami School of Law.

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