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Frida Exantus paints one of the drawings provided by ArtCares for Kids with help from Liz Portuondo (right) and hospital volunteer Barbara Nunez. (Photo by Jocelyn Talavera / South Florida News Service)
Frida Exantus paints one of the drawings provided by ArtCares for Kids with help from Liz Portuondo (right) and hospital volunteer Barbara Nunez. (Photo by Jocelyn Talavera / South Florida News Service)

Street artists and muralists come together to benefit ArtCares for Kids

At an art show in 2010, artist Christine Lyall noticed a father and son looking at her painting. While the father admired the painting at eye level, the little boy balanced on his tiptoes trying to get a better look.

“I just thought, too bad it’s not low enough for the kid to see it better,” said Lyall, 48, who then thought of creating a show that would bring art work down to a child’s eye level — 36 inches off the ground.

It took her three years to produce what was then called “More Than Meets the Eye,”a family friendly art exhibit.

By Jocelyn Talavera
South Florida News Service
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Lyall wanted the show to expose children to art and encourage the adults to interact and look at art in a simpler way.

“Kids are very visceral and not judgmental. A lot of adults tend to be like, ‘Ugh, I don’t like art. It’s so pretentious.’ And the kids don’t have those reactions,” Lyall said.

By placing the art lower, the children are able to see a new meaning on the paintings, giving the adults a fresh perspective, as well, said Lyall, who received positive reactions to the first show and produced two more since.

She added to the exhibit hands-on activities and games, like a scavenger hunt with questions to answer by looking at the art, to engage the kids and make it more interactive for the families.

By the third show, Lyall knew that if she continued with this concept, she wanted it to benefit an organization in the community.

Last year, the event’s name changed to “Just My Height” and helped Project L.E.A.D., which stands for Literacy for Every Adult in Dade.

This year’s show, “Secret Doors,” will benefit ArtCares for Kids, a Miami-based nonprofit organization that takes art activities to children undergoing oncological and other intensive medical treatments at Jackson Memorial Holtz Children’s Hospital and Baptist Children’s Hospital. Founded in 2010 by Clinical Art Therapist Liz Portuondo, ArtCares uses art as a therapeutic and healing tool.

“Kids jump right into the art. What art does for them is normalize their day to day,” said Portuondo, 53. “Children want to play and have fun, and a hospital setting is such an abnormal situation for a child.”

Frida Exantus, 10, has been at Jackson Memorial Holtz Children’s Hospital since November of last year. She has hydrocephalus, which occurs when fluid builds up in the skull and causes the brain to swell. Exantus’ condition occurred from the bacterial infection meningitis.

“For the past four months, what I’ve seen that little girl go through, she’s tough,” said Frida’s father, Emanes Exantus, 58.

Frida is partially paralyzed on the right side of her body after removing and replacing a piece of skull to allow the brain to heal.

Her father said painting distracts her from her condition.

In the span of an hour, Frida paints five drawings, all while singing and dancing to Bob Marley’s cover of Everything Will Be Alright.

Portuondo said art helps these children feel like “kids” again.

“People think that we’re the heroes, but we constantly tell them, ‘We are not the heroes. The children are the heroes.’ They are the ones teaching us about life and what’s important, and just to be in the present moment with them,” Portuondo said.

“Secret Doors” will feature pieces from 15 artists and muralists from South Florida. The art will be made into a coloring book for ArtCares to give to children in hospitals and include the artist’s biography and will be available for purchase at the event.

“Anything we can do to contribute to a nonprofit that’s going to help a good cause is a good action to be involved in,” said Miguel Paredes, 42, one of the artists participating in the show. “I say this with pride: If it’s going to help, I’m involved.”

The show is co-produced with Pascal Doytier, publisher of South Florida street art magazine, Talking off the Wall. Doytier has interviewed and featured many of the artists participating in the show in the magazine for the past two years. “Secret Doors” is the first show he will produce, one that took a year to come together and that he is proud of.

“I have a love for art, for children, for community. So this was a perfect project to me,” said Doytier, 53. “Talking Off the Wall is a community project. We work with the community, so it was a perfect fit — ArtCares for Kids. Their mission is absolutely beautiful and needs this support.”

The Miami Herald published this piece on April 7, 2016. Interested in having low-cost, timely and professionally edited work for your news organization? Read about us here and contact News Director Dan Evans at daniel.evans@fiu.edu.

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IF YOU GO

What: “Secret Doors” Art Show.

When: Friday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. It runs through Sunday, April 17, 2016.

Where: Wynwood Warehouse Project, 450 NW 27th St., Miami.

About: Admission to the show is $15 for the adults in advance and $20 at the door. Children are free. Tickets can be purchased on Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/secret-doors-tickets-22468003403.

The opening will feature hands-on art activities for all ages, with light bites and refreshments, and end with a special brunch event at the gallery by Wynwood Café from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information on “Just My Height,” contact justmyheight@gmail.com or visit “Just My Height” on Facebook.

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