Arrived in Havana for the first time, and was greeted by 4 basically unknown smiling faces waving to me as I went through the security doors at the airport. We all jumped into a bright green 1950’s taxi and so began the most amazingly intense week of my life! In addition to helping the artists paint a large residential mural in the neighbourhood, I spent 6 days straight, conducting a free afterschool workshop for about 16 children, on altered books. All of the materials used came with me and were provided thanks to the fundraising efforts of young students at Laura Secord School in Winnipeg. The workshop was conducted on the very hot rooftop of Muraleando’s project co-ordinator’s home, but that certainly did not seem to bother any of the children who waited on the curb outside patiently each day after school, for me to call them up. I have never experienced children so eager and grateful for the opportunity to participate in an art class. The week left me in tears each night that I was there...I was physically and mentally exhausted from the intensity of the experience yet I knew almost immediately that I would be returning in the future. The people in this community welcomed me with open arms and hearts, and I only hope that I gave to them as much as I was given that week in Muraleando.
This year I was honoured to be asked by Manolo, the project co-ordinator for Muraleando, if I would create an outdoor art installation in addition to conducting the four workshops I had planned for the week....with technical help from Manolo and his brother Manolete, I created a sculptural piece titled “the nest”, which was installed on Muraleando’s artists boulevard in the centre of the barrio. In addition, four different workshops were conducted this year in order for me to accommodate more children. They created delightful handmade books of various shapes and sizes. Instead of Manolo’s roof top, we worked at the end of Calle Munoz at an outdoor recreation centre of sorts. Work also began this week on a block long fence mural which highlights work by each of the Muraleando volunteer artists...again I was asked to participate as the first honourary artist of the Muraleando Community Project.
Thanks to the fundraising efforts of Kelvin High School student Hannah Doucet and myself, we sold greeting cards to friends, family and others, depicting the art murals in Muraleando, and we made enough to once again purchase all of the supplies needed for the workshops but also to be able to leave a suitcase full of art supplies that they could continue to use throughout the year. I have already committed myself to return next April and again I leave in tears, because now I am leaving a whole group of friends and my new Cuban family.
Here I am once again to share with you the highlights of my week of volunteering in the Muraleando Community Project. According to Manolo and others, my Spanish is slowly but surely improving which I hope confirms to them that I am serious and committed to continuing my work with the project. This year was Muraleando’s 10th anniversary and it was very exciting since they were given access to a 100 yr old concrete water tank buried in a hill in the neighbourhood. Why is that such a big deal you may ask? Well, this would be the start of a dream being fulfilled, for a community arts centre where workshops can be held, supplies stored, meetings conducted and festivities to take place for all in the community. They were given access to “el tanque” in February and by the time I had arrived it was ready for me to conduct the first workshop in!! The artists had to shift their creative volunteer hours to heavy duty construction work, but they did so and will continue to do so until the vision for “el tanque” is complete. As always, workshops were conducted; this year I gave 4 workshops – one collage workshop for the younger children which resulted in an accordion style book, 2 workshops for older children which introduced them to relief printmaking on linoleum and provided each of them in the end, with a portfolio of prints from fellow students, and finally an interesting handmade book workshop for the artists of Muraleando involving india ink and introduced them to some basic bookbinding skills. The artists however, were very envious of what the older children were doing in the printmaking workshop and asked me to consider a workshop like that for them next year!!
It was very exciting to see this new decade of Muraleando emerging from the earth as it was, with “el tanque”. You could feel the excitement about the possibilities this might bring for the community, and even though the physical and financial labours to achieve that seem unimaginable at times, it is quite remarkable how their Cuban strength and determination seems to get them through the impossible. I am truly in awe of what these people are able to accomplish with virtually nothing. Thanks this year go out to Sid Williamson who continues to actively support my work in Muraleando, and this year held a small wine and cheese fundraiser which assisted me in providing not only suitcases full of art supplies but also some extra money to be able to support the construction efforts for “el tanque”....I literally watched our money at work while I was there this year... thanks as well, to my family and dear friends who also continue to support this project each and every year in their own ways....I am sincerely grateful.