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In Miami, how art intersects with technology and climate change

In Miami’s famed mural district, Wynwood, a combination of art and technology is raising awareness about the threats of climate change. South Floridians are no strangers to stronger storms, so-called sunny day flooding and rising seas. These augmented reality murals aim to educate and inform through art. Special correspondent Alicia Menendez reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We reported earlier in the program about climate change and potential connections to our weather.

    Let's look now at how one woman is using art and technology to warn about the risks of climate change.

    Special correspondent Alicia Menendez takes us to Miami for the story.

    It's the focus of this week's Leading Edge segment and part of our ongoing arts and culture coverage, Canvas.

  • Alicia Menendez:

    The colorful murals that line these Miami streets have turned the Wynwood neighborhood into a mecca for street artists. The walls are bright, grab your attention and, in the age of social media and Instagrammable moments, make a perfect backdrop for almost anything.

    This mural is all about animals, a black panther, a sea turtle, a coyote, all threatened by climate change and what's known as the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals. Look closer with the help of a smartphone or tablet and there's even more to see.

  • Linda Cheung:

    This is sort of the ocean and coral, and it turns into sort of like the sea level rise across top.

  • Alicia Menendez:

    Linda Cheung is the mastermind behind the project.

  • Linda Cheung:

    We picked animals that are either endangered, some of them invasive, in fact, so like that lionfish right there.

  • Alicia Menendez:

    But it only came to life with the work of two other people

  • Reinier Gamboa:

    My favorite part of the mural is actually all of it.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Alicia Menendez:

    Artist Reinier Gamboa.

  • Juan Carlos Gallo:

    So, there's the coyote.

  • Alicia Menendez:

    And Juan Carlos Gallo, who designed the augmented reality experience.

  • Juan Carlos Gallo:

    You come up to the thing, and you kind of point out the animal. And in this case, for example, it recognized the sea turtle's leg. So, in this case, now it's playing the sea turtle video. And as you can see, there is there is coral on the ground.

    Oh, here's a little bottle.

    This story, it's basically telling you how plastic is affecting the ecosystem and how turtles and all kinds of animals are consuming this plastic.

  • Alicia Menendez:

    For Cheung, putting the project together was a steep learning curve. Her background was in finance, not art or technology.

  • Linda Cheung:

    I had to meet and find out who the best muralists were in Wynwood, find a wall. How do you do augmented reality? I needed to find someone who did augmented reality programming, so bringing about the team, and then having — you had a blank slate.

    And it's like, what do we do with this mural? What's the message, what's the story, what's the design?

  • Alicia Menendez:

    When you were getting your MBA at MIT, did you think you would be painting murals on the streets of Wynwood?

  • Linda Cheung:

    Actually, it was funny, because I used to scoff at art.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Linda Cheung:

    I was working on Wall Street. For me, everything was about numbers. Like, for me, it's like, this is a systems problem. We need policy change. We need investment dollars going into this.

    And I started to realize, no, that's not the problem. The problem is cultural. So, our economic system is entirely focused on productivity, on this sort of produce more growth, endless growth. And yet we can't have endless growth on a finite planet.

  • Alicia Menendez:

    There's a warning in this mural, right? So it would have been easy to do it all very dark. But you wanted big bright pops of color. Why was that important?

  • Reinier Gamboa:

    Exactly.

    I mean, that's — it's part of the Miami aesthetic. Everything is competing for attention. It wants to — all these colors are jumping at you. I like this juxtaposition of just opposing species. So, this is a nice eclectic mix, almost like mirroring the way that we combine ourselves too.

  • Alicia Menendez:

    The designers faced a number of challenges. Among them, the light that hits the mural affects the augmented reality experience.

    At night, when the animals are flooded in bright, controlled light, it makes it easier for the image recognition technology to work. It also makes it brighter on your phone.

    Another issue for the app design was how the animals were painted. To make the augmented reality work, there needed to be so-called markers with detail for the app to recognize.

  • Juan Carlos Gallo:

    So, as you can see, the manatee is kind of a smooth body. So, if you wanted to pick up the manatee itself, the only detail is really here in the face and kind of this area here.

    So this is where most of the edges are. So we picked this section as the marker. And that kind of thing, we had to figure out for all the animals. What sections of the animals were easier to be picked up?

  • Alicia Menendez:

    Just down the street, perhaps forebodingly, across from Miami's oldest cemetery, is Cheung's first try at an augmented reality mural.

  • Linda Cheung:

    You can actually be an agent in this story.

  • Alicia Menendez:

    This one posed a stark choice: Be the change or no change. Pick no change, and the city crumbles into rapidly rising water as stormy skies swirl above. But choose to be the change, and Miami turns into a lush oasis filled with wind turbines, solar panels and cyclists.

    Miami and South Florida are no strangers to the effects of climate change. Florida residents stand to lose more homes to flooding this century than any other state. And most climate models show that, by 2070, Miami's streets could flood every single day.

  • Yoca Arditi-Rocha:

    I think Miami, it's definitely on its way.

  • Alicia Menendez:

    Yoca Arditi Rocha is the executive director of Miami's CLEO Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to climate change education.

  • Yoca Arditi-Rocha:

    Between the algae blooms crisis that we had this year and extreme weather events like Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Michael late last year, in addition to rising seas, south Floridians are really understanding, connecting the dots what's happening to our warming oceans and our warming climate.

    Are we are 100 percent climate literate? No, we're not. But I think we have moved the needle as a community into learning that we are feeling and understanding the impacts of a warming world.

  • Alicia Menendez:

    But Cheung wants to do more than move the needle.

  • Linda Cheung:

    There is this belief that it's either care about the environment or care about people's economic welfare. And I want people to realize, these are two and the same things. If you don't care about the environment, you end up paying for it way down the line, not even way down — you end up paying for it way more.

    I really want to reach more people from the general public. But the bridge to the public is missing, and I think art can be that bridge.

  • Alicia Menendez:

    And she hopes to spread the message one mural at a time.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Alicia Menendez in Miami.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fascinating way to combine art and science.

    Thank you.

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