With the Blind in Mind

Fort Lauderdale gets a multisensory mural.

By Maggie Zackowitz

Dee Nelson gets a feel for the multisensory mural as Samantha Kelly, the vice president of programs and a teacher at Lighthouse of Broward, looks on. Image courtesy Francisco Mayorga.

You don’t have to be able to see to appreciate the colorful mural on the side of the Lighthouse of Broward building in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Stretching for 82 feet along the narrow sidewalk on busy North Andrews Avenue, Main Course portrays a mythical version of a mockingbird who has eaten so much citrus she’s begun to turn orange herself. But it is more than eye candy in this oversaturated part of Florida. Portions of the painting are made of textured, waterproofed panels and mounted at different heights along the wall. Motion sensors activate speakers that play recordings including rustling sawgrass and chirping frogs for passersby. Diffusers puff out the fragrances of wood and grass and citrus every few minutes. It’s the perfect piece for Lighthouse of Broward, a nonprofit that provides job training and other services for the visually impaired.

The multisensory project was the idea of Cadence, a local landscape architecture firm, as part of its effort to create pedestrian and bike infrastructure. Adjacent to the mural, Cadence has proposed the Mockingbird Trail, a six-and-a-half-mile loop through the downtown core, in a city that has few such amenities. With early support from the BBX Capital Foundation and a grant from the Community Foundation of Broward, Cadence partnered with Unconventional Group, an organization that coordinates public mural projects, to find nearly 200 community members (including 18 visually impaired volunteers from Lighthouse of Broward) to work under the supervision of the artist Ernesto Maranje. The mural was completed in a paint-by-numbers process in just one day, on this year’s National Day of Service for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

Rebecca Bradley, ASLA, a founding principal of Cadence, is especially proud of one aspect of the mural execution: The creatives, including her own firm, got paid. “We always try to make sure that people understand any time we’re doing these community engagement projects that there should be investment in the creatives on the team. That’s not something we devalue. And it raises the quality level of the project,” she says. “The materials we were using, the signage—everything got wrapped into the budget. The board thought we were crazy saying that we wanted to set a mural for $50,000. They thought that’s way too much. And then of course when it was finished they were like, ‘Wow, I’m glad we spent that!’”

Painted in just one day, the mural has brightened what was once a plain brown wall. Image courtesy Cadence.

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