The metal art pieces in “Grounded” are located at every entrance of the Liberty Square apartment complex’s 18 buildings across its three-block area, transforming their institutional look with bold swaths of color.

“Grounded,” a public artwork created by Miami-based artist Xavier Cortada, brings beauty to the redeveloped Liberty Square apartment complex and reconnects Black culture and history to the heart of Miami-Dade County’s Black community.

The improvement of the apartment complex is part of the county’s Liberty City Rising redevelopment project, which was completed in 2020 for Black residents pushed out of densely populated Overtown. The project aimed to reconstruct the Liberty Square Community Center, run job placement and training programs, offer criminal defense assistance and provide health care facilities.

The housing project was created in the 1930s under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal to provide Black residents the foundation to thrive socially and economically through a close-knit community, affordable rent and access to public transportation. The predominantly Black neighborhood later deteriorated following the 1980 Miami riots after the murder of Arthur McDuffie by Miami-Dade police officers, and its reputation was ultimately tarnished by poverty, violence and a heightened police presence.


The Liberty Square gates will be identified by their designated colors until residents decide what to name them.

“Grounded” is helping to rebuild the neighborhood’s image. Cortada designed the project after being contracted by the Liberty Square property management company to solve a doorway flaw in its 54 gates while adding a creative element. The brightly colored metal art pieces are located at every entrance of the apartment complex’s buildings across its three-block area, transforming the gates’ institutional look.

Cortada’s artwork endeavors to tell the stories of communities experiencing displacement due to environmental issues and gentrification. The artist’s decadelong career focuses on intertwining themes of global climate change and bringing awareness to social justice issues. He is currently a professor at the University of Miami.

He's worked closely with Liberty City residents in the past. In 2019, Cortada and artist Germane Barnes collaborated with university and high school students to highlight the rich history of the Black neighborhood through an installation in the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center. He later created the Adinkra Project, “Grounded in Liberty City,” to address community issues of gentrification and communal identity, which he hoped would unify the neighborhood in a shared mentality by painting Ghanian symbols representing core values.

Green gate

Liberty Square’s Green Gate faces the city’s old segregation wall.

“I’m trying to create a mechanism to let us have conversations about the displacement,” said Cortada. “I think there is something that’s happening all over Miami with the very social fabric of different communities, like Asian and Hispanic communities, but especially the Black community. You’re starting to see communities dissolving, and the informal connections that exist in those communities are also beginning to dissolve.”

“Grounded” supports his mission of facilitating these particular conversations and demonstrates his commitment to the history of Liberty City’s residents.

The project’s designs were inspired by local vegetation, specifically the mangroves that protect the shores of South Florida, which is a focal point in much of Cortada’s work as a symbol of community. The mangroves designed on the gates of the buildings and planted along the complex represent his efforts to reground the residents in their community.

Blue gate

The Blue Gate is one of 54 powder-coated aluminum cutouts on metal gates at Liberty Square.

“I wanted to do more than bring beauty to the building. I wanted to bring uniqueness and, more importantly, a platform,” said Cortado. “I don’t want us to forget the history of the community, and that’s why it’s called ‘Grounded.’ I surrounded the entire structure with mangrove roots so that the community is here to protect itself.”

Cortada left the works on the individual gates nameless to encourage residents to name and claim them as their own. For now, they’re identified simply by color.

“The gates are intentionally to be named by the people who have proximity to them. Find the closest gate to your house or whatever it is that you remember because I’d love for people to name the gates after themselves, their mother, and take a picture in front of it,” he said.

The green gate’s design references the 8-foot-tall segregation wall the entrance faces that once forced Black residents to stay on one side after sunset.

Amber gate

The Amber Gate at Liberty Square

“I was mindful of creating the gates and what I was trying to do,” Cortada said. “I wanted to have someone drive by here to stop and look at the designs. There was nothing here, but I hope that will change and this will start some cultural programming, public art or something to celebrate the history of Liberty City and acknowledge the burden of that wall.”

As a white artist, particularly after the death of George Floyd, Cortada was conflicted about telling the story of a Black community. He considered his past work in the community and asked himself if he should continue with the project. He consulted two close colleagues – Reginald O’Neal and Marshall Davis, both prominent Black artists in Miami – and they reassured him that his concerns were misguided.

“They were straightforward with me ... that I think about connecting and working across cultures and communities,” said Cortada. “I think there’s a civic maturity that allows me to understand how to address issues like violence or take away from other issues I’ve talked about and celebrating matriarchs of the community, and doing it in a way that doesn’t sensationalize or exploit.”

He encourages Liberty City residents to share and activate the #Grounded art pieces as a place they can anchor memories they’ve created in what is now a changed landscape.

“I’m looking for storytellers to come and sit by the mangrove roots, own them as their gates, and tell the stories of their past as they inspire future generations to push toward building a better future,” said Cortada. “Let the roots serve as the portal to your memory. That’s what ‘Grounded’ is all about.”