THE HAVANA PROJECTS
My involvement in Cuba began when I first met an artist who was visiting Canada in 2008 for an exhibition that he was a part of in Winnipeg. I hosted an afternoon in my studio for him and another Cuban artist and by the end of that day I found myself wanting to know more about their everyday lives in Cuba. One of them told me that, aside from being an artist, he was a co-ordinator for a little project in his neighbourhood – that project was called Muraleando and his name was Manuel Diaz Baldrich. By the time he left my studio that day I had volunteered to come to Havana the following spring to conduct free art workshops for the children in his neighbourhood.
On my first visit in April of 2009 I immediately fell in love with Havana, with the people, but even more so with the children of Muraleando. 20 years ago when I decided to change paths and follow a more artistically driven life, I was unsure how and where I might fit into the world of art. Although I have since built a relatively successful full time solo art practice, it was only when I became involved in the Muraleando Project that I knew almost immediately where I might leave my artistic mark one day.
For nine years it became an annual pilgrimage for me every April when Murealando hosted a two week international arts festival. And each year I came down with suitcases stuffed with art supplies and sundries for the children and other residents in the community. I gave art classes to the children, women and the Muraleando artists. The actions of this remarkable group of people are a tangible demonstration of what can be done when abandoned areas in neighbourhoods are rescued, and how art can be used to not only inspire but to resolve serious social issues in a community. Muraleando and its residents have left a huge permanent impression embedded in my heart and a mind full of cherished memories that will never be forgotten.
I'm now involved in a new community art project in East Havana known as Proyectongo. It is a small but very focussed group effort headed by my dear friend and talented artist and teacher Yoan Barrios. He brings his valuable past experience from the Muraleando project and his love of art back now, to the children of his own neighbourhood of San Franscisco de Paula, which is located in the San Miguel del Padrón District and very near to the Hemmingway estate. In a short period of time Proyectongo has established itself and been recognized, as a true social art project dedicated to the children and others in its community.
Going forward I have made a conscious decision to refocus my artistic priorities to concentrate on my studio practise. That next phase of my career will begin with a large solo exhibition titled Mono No Aware opening in Havana on December 21, 2018 and on display until January 25, 2019 at La Moderna Galeria in Centro Havana. This is thanks to a relationship with Gallery Director Magnolia More Abreu that developed over my years of volunteering in Havana. Cuban artistic sensibilities, and the Cuban people young and old have become embedded not only in my artistic pursuits but also in my views of the importance of generosity, openness and exploration of the lives of others. Cuba has changed me and, in a small way, I too have changed Cuba.