The Underwater, a socially engaged art project by Xavier Cortada, creates elevation-driven public art installations that reveal the vulnerability of coastal communities to rising seas, spark climate conversations, and catalyze civic engagement.  


Using an app, participants discover their home’s elevation above sea level and paint that number on an “Underwater Yard Sign” given to them by Cortada’s team. Importantly, participants place the elevation-marked signs in their front yards as a way of sparking climate-related conversation and action with anyone who inquires about them.  In coordination with local partners, this effort uses data-driven art to systematically reveal Miami’s vulnerability to rising seas and mobilize residents to demand that government equitably plan for a future impacted by climate change. 


After placing the sign on their lawn, participants are invited to browse the “Underwater Intel.”

This online resource hub contains a curated selection of videos, books, podcasts, and more for anyone who wants to dive deeper in their climate education. Additionally, the Intel highlights local South Florida organizations to get involved with, inspiring leaders to learn from, and special places to explore. With the understanding that everyone has different interests and passions, the resources are divided into the following topics:

  • Science, Nature & Conservation
  • Justice, Law & Policy
  • Business, Energy & Technology
  • Art, Culture & Media
  • Health, Wellness & Diet

Learning and working together participants are encouraged to get involved with ongoing efforts presented by local organizations ranging from climate advocacy and adaptation to sustainable seafood and native tree planting.

Local context

Miami is dealing with a wicked problem.

Today, cranes populate the Miami skyline, building more and more skyscrapers at the water’s edge. Growth is what fuels the economy – increased development grows the tax base and keeps property taxes from rising. Developers push for growth. It’s a high reward game with little actual risk: they will get their ROI two years later when the condos get sold.

Buyers, mostly international cash investors, are also hedging their bets – hoping to flip their affluent properties a few years later and long before the psychology of sea level rise bursts the real estate bubble. Because of this brazen overdevelopment, citizens don’t have a real sense that sea level rise poses a true threat to their homes, savings, jobs, and community. 

Politicians, who are evaluated in two-year and four-year election cycles, aren’t incentivized to plan for the long-term. They engage in ribbon cutting ceremonies for new buildings with impunity even if that will only burden future generations. Their pro-growth actions signal to constituents that everything will be fine, but all they are doing is kicking the can down the road. 

In Miami, rising seas will disproportionately impact people of color and poorer residents living in low lying areas (as low-income neighborhoods are abandoned, property owners will lose everything) and higher lying areas (evicted renters – the victims of climate gentrification). 

The Underwater aims to uplift and amplify these voices in the pursuit of social and economic stability for all Miamians. 


The Underwater, a socially engaged art project by Xavier Cortada, is an ongoing initiative of the Xavier Cortada Foundation.

Starting in 2023, it is being implemented across all of Miami-Dade County’s 250+ parks in collaboration with the Office of the Mayor and the University of Miami as presenting partners. We are grateful to the support of our sponsors including Creative Capital and the Cecil & Ana Milton Family Foundation.

In spring 2022, Cortada’s project was launched in Miami with the support of the Xavier Cortada Foundation, Creative Capital and the University of Miami Laboratory for Integrated Knowledge (U-LINK)‘s On the Move: Climate Migration and Retreat in South Florida, the Caribbean, and Beyond interdisciplinary research team (where he serves as one of four principal investigators).