2012

Wow, year four. Hard to believe it has now been four years that I have been going to Havana to volunteer! Every year just keeps getting better, fuller, and richer in the sense of the experiences I have with the Muraleando community. Each year I have witnessed firsthand, the progress made in the project but this year was something quite remarkable to say the least. The artists and new recruits from the neighbourhood have continued the work on “el tanque” and the results are spectacular. This site has become a vibrant hub for all of the children in the neighbourhood along with their families, to attend artistic workshops of all sorts, special events, concerts, etc. The interior walls of the tank itself have become a gallery and backdrop for the artists and children to show their creations to the community but also to the turistos. Yes, because of the recognition this project has received from the Cuban government, the major tour operators have now included the Muraleando community project, as a must see destination for visitors to Havana! This means that at least twice a week,  a large tour bus rolls down the roads of this neighbourhood and unloads a bus full of eager tourists from all over the world, hoping to get a “real” Cuban experience and connect with locals outside the touristy streets of old Havana. Being introduced now as their Canadian ambassador to Muraleando, I had an opportunity to talk to a number of the tour groups that arrived while I was volunteering this year and I loved the chance to boast about this project from my own perspective...the best part for me is that I was able to speak to them in English, which is always a welcome break from my usual “spanglish”. Although I have the best translators made available to me when I am giving workshops, no one is around 24/7 to translate, so language is still a huge issue. I am fully able to get by while I am there however I absolutely long to get to know people in much more depth than I am able to at present. Each year we all vow on both sides to learn each other’s language more before our next encounter but it is difficult for us all to find the time.

This year’s workshops were different, fun and well received. I conducted workshops for the children, the artists, and this year I finally had the delightful opportunity to work with a group of grandmothers who I had heard about in the past but never worked with personally. They are a small but active group who get together bi weekly to make dolls and objects by sewing both on machine and by hand.  The grandmothers made goddess doll necklaces with beautiful fabrics, colourful threads and beads. I gave the artists the printmaking workshop they had asked for last year, and finally, the children and I worked on a collaborative installation using screening material, beads and wire which now hangs prominently in the courtyard of “el tanque”.  As always I am incredibly grateful and happy to say that all of the materials for the workshops were brought with me from Canada with plenty of extra to leave behind, but the biggest “moment” of the week was when I laid out about 20prs of reading glasses on the table at the grandmother’s workshop!!  Those who needed them were absolutely thrilled and any leftovers were scooped up by some of the aging artists who were so grateful that I realized again how something so small can mean so much to these people. Thanks again to the generous financial support of a small but loyal group of Winnipeggers, I was able to not only buy all of the art supplies needed but also provided a monetary donation to go towards ongoing construction at the “el tanque” site. Lots more work still to do and the number of children attending workshops grows each year so I suppose year five is inevitable.....stay tuned!

Childrens installation closeup

Childrens installation closeup

El tanque in progress 14 months

El tanque in progress 14 months

Goddess doll necklace

Goddess doll necklace

Reading glasses a hit with grandmothers

Reading glasses a hit with grandmothers


 

2013

Winnipeg Prayer Flags flying over Muraleando neighbourhood


2013 marked my 5th year of journeying to Muraleando to work with the children, artists and others in the community. I was fortunate and grateful to have two good friends from Winnipeg join me this year for a couple of visits to the project. They were taken in with open arms and hearts by my Cuban friends and it did not take long for Max and Cindy to fall in love with the culture and spirit of this vibrant community.

El Tanque continues to be a major hub of activity in the neighbourhood. During the day it is busy with labourers and artists working on Manolo’s never ending list of construction activities and creative installations. Late afternoon through early evening it is full of children who attend free after school programs in music, dance, theatre and art. The rooftop of El Tanque was completed this past year and has become an outdoor party sight for special events and visitors, with live music and dancing under the beautiful Havana sky and stars....it is quite magical. Tourists visiting the project are almost a daily occurrence...they are coming on cultural bus tours from all over the world to experience a bit of what Cuba, Havana and Muraleando have to share. I have had the opportunity to meet some very interesting people who even after only a brief visit to Muraleando, share my excitement and amazement for this project. 


El Tanque continues to be a major hub of activity in the neighbourhood. During the day it is busy with labourers and artists working on Manolo’s never ending list of construction activities and creative installations. Late afternoon through early evening it is full of children who attend free after school programs in music, dance, theatre and art. The rooftop of El Tanque was completed this past year and has become an outdoor party sight for special events and visitors, with live music and dancing under the beautiful Havana sky and stars....it is quite magical. Tourists visiting the project are almost a daily occurrence...they are coming on cultural bus tours from all over the world to experience a bit of what Cuba, Havana and Muraleando have to share. I have had the opportunity to meet some very interesting people who even after only a brief visit to Muraleando, share my excitement and amazement for this project.


I wanted to do something a little special this year to celebrate my 5th year in the project, so prior to leaving Winnipeg I held a workshop which resulted in the gifting of 30 beautiful prayer flags , with the simple idea of sharing prayers of love and support from a community of friends here to the community in Havana. Prayer flags were also made by children, grandmothers and artists of Muraleando during my workshops, using many mediums such as markers, paint, fabrics, beads, buttons and printmaking. Most of the Cubans had not been exposed to this Tibetan tradition of prayer flags so it was a completely new concept which they embraced. Some of these prayer flags were then gifted back, to return to Wpg to be shared with others here on the grounds of Harrow United Church for all to see during late spring and most of the summer. 


2013-6.jpg

While I was there, Muraleando was also host to artists from Germany, Mexico and California, so it made for a lot of interesting cultural, social and creative exchanges. I was surprised at the closing ceremony when they revealed the reason for a large installation that had involved a number of artists while I was there... a beautiful 3 dimensional concrete wall relief of a tree complete with a nest and eggs and bearing many fruits of creativity done by the children prior to my arrival. This impressive installation was dedicated to me by the community in honour of my 5th year of volunteer work in Muraleando. I knew that something was up because I kept asking what it was all about and in return I got lots of vague answers and strange looks suggesting there was a language problem!! 


So in 5 short years I have personally witnessed this community grow from one man’s dream and practically nothing, to become a jewel in Cuba’s cultural community. They continue to win national awards for their tireless efforts in trying to make life better for their small neighbourhood, through the power of arts and the strength and commitment of its people. They are becoming a role model for other projects in the country. It is truly an honour to be able to say I played a small part in helping to make this dream come true but of course I am not alone... As always I have had a loyal and dedicated group of friends, family and others in Winnipeg who have supported me and this project and every year that group seems to grow! Who knows what year 6 will bring but I am counting the months until I return....