Year 8 almost didn’t happen! Due to the huge rise in tourism from the US, we almost didn’t make it to Havana for the annual international arts festival in Muraleando this year! Thanks to a couple of guardian angels from Fort Rouge Travel we were finally booked to arrive in early May, a month later than usual, but my dear friends in Muraleando decided to change the dates of the festival this year to coincide with our arrival!
We were very excited this year to see for ourselves, how much if anything had changed in Havana since last year. Cuba was certainly in the news more than usual this year and the media suggested that Cuba is changing and therefore the lives of the people of Cuba are better!
There is a quote from Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez “... Cuba is more a headline than a reality”! Yes, things are changing. There are signs of infra-structure improvements, new hotels under construction, new restaurants popping up everywhere.... But in my opinion, the only people really benefiting from all of these “changes” are the American tourists they are targeting. The average Cuban’s life is not any better...in fact in general, it is probably worse. Food is harder to come by because there are more tourists’ mouths now to feed...and even if you can get to a market at the crack of dawn to try and get what you need, the prices are higher because they know they can get it from those who need produce for the businesses who cater to the tourists.
The kind of change that is truly needed in Cuba is not going to happen overnight and busloads of American tourists are not necessarily going to make everything better. But don’t get me wrong, I am sincerely grateful for the tourists coming to Havana and in particular to the community project I am involved with in Muraleando. I had the opportunity to speak with many who visited the project this spring, and they were all lovely, interested, caring and generous individuals.
As usual each year my main involvement during the festival in Muraleando is to provide art workshops for the kids and others in the project. This year I conducted two workshops for both younger and older children. The first workshop with the older kids was making Paste Papers. They made 50 large sheets of decorative papers with paint and a variety of tools to create colour, pattern and texture.
The second workshop was with the younger kids, and their task was to use those paste papers to create specific collaged images on canvas boards. The intent of these two workshops was that of a collaborative effort by the children of the Muraleando project to create a Spanish alphabet book which I will be self-publishing this year with the help of a company here in Winnipeg called Art Bookbindery. All of the images were carefully photographed while I was in Muraleando and I will soon begin the process of creating the book.
My dream is to be able to print at least 200 copies with the intent to bring one back for each of the children who participated in its creation, copies for the various schools in the neighbourhood, and then to have some as well that the project can sell in El Tanque to visitors to the project. The money raised from those sales will go directly back into programs for the children throughout the year. That is my plan...cross your fingers for me that I can make this happen for them!
I also gave a mini add-on session to a bookmaking workshop being conducted by one of the Muraleando artists, my good friend Victor Mora. He asked if I would teach the grandmothers/women’s group how to make paste papers as well so they could then use them for the covers of their Japanese stab-binding books in his workshop. Much to my surprise the women really got into the paste paper process and it was hard to get them to stop! As I have found many times in the past when working with my cuban friends, they are always so grateful and eager to learn anything new, even if it is outside their comfort zone.
Another big part of the annual festival, especially in the last 5 years since the El Tanque community centre was built, involves new construction on site and new outdoor art installations and murals. Although just as ambitious as in other years, this year things were definitely busy but seemed a bit more relaxed than usual...everyone still worked hard every day for the two weeks of the festival and boy was it hot this year! …. but I realized now that after five years of intense and focussed experience learning new skills and ways of working with different materials, they were becoming skillful craftsman as well as being talented artists. Also because of the success of the project in general, they are now able to provide employment for a few skilled labourers from the barrio to help with some of the more complicated construction tasks.!
So this year was also a momentous year for the Muraleando Project – they celebrated their 15th Anniversary for the Project itself, the 10th Anniversary of the Annual International Arts Festival, and the 5th Anniversary since the unearthing of El Tanque and creation of the community centre.
To most who visit for the first time, it may appear like they have always been there...As you enter the neighbourhood it is filled with murals and evidence of years past, but the reality is that most of what the tourists now see when they arrive by the busloads daily, is really the result of the last five years! And once you really wrap your brain around that and what you are seeing and experiencing when you are there, it is unbelievable what this small group of people who started with nothing but their time, hopes and a dream were able to accomplish in this small, impoverished barrio of Havana! I am so blessed to have been able to see this happen and to realize the power of good intention, not to mention the power of art to transform lives!!!! Thanks to all of my friends and family near and afar, who have helped support my efforts again this year and special thanks to my husband Terry and the staff of LM Architectural Group for their support and annual contribution.. I could not have done without you all! Un gran abrazo!!