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FIU Online commissions alumna for ‘Beautifully Miami’ artwork

by Monica Smith

Nov 30, 2020, 10:00 AM.

Gianna DiBartolomeo BFA ’07, MFA ’19, creates “cafecito” cup pixel art to celebrate FIU, online learning and the beauty and diversity of the local Miami community.

Gianna DiBartolomeo diligently hand paints 2,800 individual cafecito cups as she checks her plans, mixes her color palette, and contemplates the next punch of color. There are 44 different colors to consider, and she knows exactly how many cups must be painted with each color. This project is special—FIU Online commissioned the piece as part of its annual community-focused campaign, Born of the 305. The theme this year is “Beautifully Miami.” 

Housed in FIU’s Miami Beach Urban Studios, Lincoln Road, in time for Miami Art Week, which takes place Nov. 30 to Dec. 6, the artwork will form the basis of multiple PR and brand-awareness campaigns for FIU Online. 

“We value our roots and community and we never want to lose sight of that as we grow our portfolio of learning products and continue to increase our reach in creating access to education worldwide—Gianna understands that firsthand,” says Lia Prevolis, FIU Online interim assistant vice president. “This year’s theme and Gianna’s creation symbolize the idea that our multicultural environment has created what is ‘Beautifully Miami.’” 

The concept is simple: a pixelation of thousands of painted cafecito cups come together on a grid and form a larger image as you step back. In this case, the image is quintessentially Miami—an Art Deco lifeguard station on Miami Beach. DiBartolomeo balances coral-, salmon- and fuchsia-painted cups in repetition, adjusting and blending as she makes each placement.

Born of the 305: Beautifully Miami

The FIU Online Born of the 305 campaign was first conceived in 2019 as a celebration of the university’s ties to its community, diversity and the people of South Florida—all of which give DiBartolomeo great pride as she builds on a metaphor for her Beautifully Miami piece.

The metaphor goes deep, DiBartolomeo feels. Cafecitos bring people together—we all know that time of day, whether at home or at work, when the smell of freshly brewed coffee fills the air and cups are passed around—most everyone enjoys this small drink of liquid energy. It allows people to connect, laugh, share stories for a while, good or bad, and then press on with their lives. Wherever we are from, these tiny cups bring us together to create one of the many moments that make living in Miami beautiful. 

“Cafecito cups read as ‘very Miami’ but also make the viewer reconsider the resources right in front of them. This piece challenges the viewer to see the commonly overlooked in a new way,” she explains as she plans her work. DiBartolomeo notes that education does the same thing—it offers students new perspectives, so when they graduate, they can see and be seen in a new way, too.

Homegrown, home-based

A Miami contemporary artist, DiBartolomeo is twice a graduate of FIU’s College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts (CARTA). She keeps a drawer full of everyday materials for inspiration. She uses mixed media to inspire and stimulate new perspectives in those who view her art. For more than a decade, her work has been seen in exhibitions in Miami, New York, Chicago, Spain, Seattle, Las Vegas and Toronto. Her heart, she declares, stays with Miami because it is where she was born, where her family is and where her most meaningful moments have occurred. 

More recently, DiBartolomeo was commissioned to produce an exhibition for MIA Galleries, Miami International Airport’s Arts & Exhibition program. The series of 11 abstract paintings, called “Touch from Above,” demonstrate her acclaim and proliferation and will be on display near gate D31 through July 2021.

“I love it here, there’s so much opportunity,” she professes. “I’m proud of being from Miami, so when I go to other places, I want to represent Miami.”

DiBartolomeo also values her FIU education because it taught her to create art that is idea based, so while the medium changes, there’s always a message. 

“There’s storytelling involved,” she expounds. Every piece she works on is, in a lot of ways, a reflection of what’s going on in her life.

Community ties

In art circles, she’s simply known as Gianna D, and she holds no pretenses as she humbly speaks of her experiences and volunteer work. DiBartolomeo lights up when she describes working in underserved elementary schools and youth centers across Miami-Dade County. Art connects a community and offers hope, she feels. Her art, she asserts, is a defiant act of hope.

“It takes a lot of work to have hope—my art is a defiant act because it is so easy to get caught up in the storm—especially now with all of the negativity, chaos and despair,” she reflects.

“We chose Gianna because of her ties to FIU, and the fact that she’s truly a Miami artist,” reports Fabian De La Flor, art director for FIU Online, “She offers a fresh and innovative way to tell the story of our connection to our community during Miami Art Week.”

The in-between times

Obsessed with the in-between moments of existence, DiBartolomeo reveals that her motivation when she approaches new work is not so much about the milestones achieved, but the journey. Perhaps, much like the cafecito times along the way. 

“It’s about that space to get into the milestone of crafting who you are, what you become. It’s about the process, which is why a lot of my work is process oriented,” she states and mentions that throughout her time with FIU, online learning was essential to help free up her schedule to work creatively and give her “room” to develop her processes.

This online learning time helped her build a strong portfolio as she participated in rapid-fire exhibitions while still a student. It also helped in the continuation of her progress toward a timely graduation.


“Completing a degree through online learning is a process where little things combine together,” she says and moves to a discussion on the diversity of Miami. DiBartolomeo points out that her cafecito art is a nod to the multicultural nature of Miami and FIU. People from all backgrounds come together to form a bigger picture—one that hints of the richness of the diversity, she reasons, and one that is “Beautifully Miami.”

DiBartolomeo agrees that there is beauty in the small moments and in repetition because sometimes, that is where the real “art” occurs—it provides you the space to communicate what you can’t in words. She suggests that online learning is like that, too.

“It’s easy to see the connection,” concludes Prevolis, “both cafecito moments and online learning can happen any place and on your own time—both contribute beautiful moments in the tapestry of our lives.”

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