Providing an artistic escape

Sarah Roach works on prepping a new paint job at the service event "Raising the Bar" on Saturday. Lindsay Brown
Sarah Roach works on prepping a new paint job at the service event "Raising the Bar" on Saturday. Lindsay Brown

On the second floor of an art studio in Little Haiti, small groups of UM law students in white shirts moved art pieces and furniture around to start repainting its walls dark blue.

UM’s chapter of the Law Student Division (LSD), along with attorneys and local lawyer organizations, volunteered Saturday at the annual “Raising the Bar” community service event to renovate Art Studio Miami, a community organization that offers cutting-edge art programs to underprivileged youth.

“Raising the Bar” was the first annual statewide event for LSD. LSD formed a year ago as a branch of the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division and has members from 11 law schools. They partnered with LexisNexis and the Dade County Bar Association of Young Lawyers for the event.

“The most important aspect of being an attorney [is] the oath we took to be public servants,” said Madeleine Mannello, a third-year UM law student and president of LSD.

The volunteers helped repaint walls, put up kitchen cabinets and counter tops and till the soil outside to produce wildflowers and a vegetable garden. A few kids from Art Studio Miami memorialized the day with a mural.

Art Studio Miami (ASM) is located in an area of Little Haiti where 90 percent of the population falls under the poverty line. Research done by the National Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign, a program that seeks to reduce the incarceration of children, said that one in three youth in the area would be imprisoned by age 21. For that reason, Rachel Hughes, founder of ASM, opened the studio in 2007.

“We’re not an after-school program,” said Beth Degi, executive director of Art Studio Miami. “We [have brought] a collaboration of professional teaching artists who [have provided] free workshops for youth in poverty, foster care and homeless.”

The purpose of ASM is to teach tangible skills for use in high-level jobs and to keep kids in school. For example, in the animation program, children learn how to write, shoot films and use Final Cut, Adobe and other editing software.

The Saturday event at ASM was an opportunity to give kids impacted by traumatic events, like the earthquake in Haiti, a place that was serene, calm and beautiful in the neighborhood.

Vaishali Desaia, a first-year law student, said the experience was surreal. She was accustomed to the well-groomed environment of UM, and there is a sharp contrast between the palm trees on campus and Little Haiti’s train tracks.

“It [was] like building a sanctuary, [around] madness,” Desaia said.

Andrea Concepcion may be contacted at