Well this was Year 6 in the Muraleando Community Art project and another year has come and gone once again. This year’s two week arts festival was probably one of the most intense I have experienced to date .... Muraleando continues to grow in leaps and bounds, and recognition continues from the cuban government and tourist agencies from all over the world.

Practically every day, one, two or sometimes three tour buses arrive one after the other, to experience a little bit of everything that makes this project special – its art, murals, outdoor sculptural installations, the community centre itself, affectionately called EL TANQUE (a restored 100 yr old water tank), and then finally, an up close and personal musical experience with local songbird Johanna and the her back up band consisting of artists, musicians, and anyone else from the neighbourhood who happens to stop by on any given day.

During the festival I conducted art workshops for the women and grandmothers group, children, teens and the Muraleando artists who are the creators, builders and truly the foundation of the project, in this small barrio of Havana. I also threw my back into some ceramic mosaic work on a 30ft long bench in the centre’s garden....hard work but I loved it... even my husband Terry, had an opportunity to get his hands dirty again this year before he left. The festival also drew two artists from Germany and one young woman from Britain who has been working in Bogota, Columbia. 

Each year, one day during the festival period is totally devoted to the kids in the community. It is a “FUN DAY” packed with all sorts of typical cuban activities – street races, a tug-of war, blind-folded boxing, and board games, all done in the streets amidst people, cars, horse drawn wagons, etc. All of the children receive small prizes for participating so as you can imagine it is well attended. A pencil, hair barrettes, elastic band bracelets, odds and ends left by tourists and myself to distribute to the community are handed out after each activity to eager and grateful little hands. It is like a mini Christmas for the children. 

A highlight for me this year was an invitation to join a group of artists, musicians, children and the co-ordinators of the Muraleando project on a brief three day road trip, to an area about 2 ½ hrs outside of Havana – in the province of Mantanzas. We visited a few locations but our main purpose was to spend time visiting a small beach side town in Cienago de Zapata. Here we were hosted by Arnoldo and his wife Yvette who are trying to develop a similar type project in their area. So our bus arrived and immediately we unloaded, set up the Band and prepared for a fun first night of music, dancing, and singing that attracted locals and tourists as they strolled along the beach....our artists also completed a mural for their centre and some sculptural work on the beach side while a couple of others including myself conducted free workshops for the children of the community. The first workshop was an origami box making workshop with about a dozen kids, and the following day, I did a simple beading workshop which had now attracted about 25 participants... word travelled fast.. and by the end of the afternoon we had mothers showing up and using every excuse possible as to why they too needed to make a bracelet....it is amazing what a big bag of beads and elastic thread can attract and how much fun you can have. And here I thought I was coming along for a nice relaxing trip to the beach finally!!! Actually I wouldn’t have it any other way.... I love doing this for these kids who have so little. Needless to say, before I left I had already promised Arnoldo and Yvette that I would return next year, this time with Terry to help in whatever way we could and of course a little workshop for the kids again couldn’t hurt right?

As always there are not enough words to thank my Winnipeg family and friends as well as some new friends I have made while I have been working in the project...thanks go out to Elizabeth, a lovely woman I met last year from Washington DC.....I believe her introduction to me was Hi I’m Elizabeth, I own a bead company, would you like me to donate some stuff!! Well Elizabeth came through but there was so much amazing material I needed to do it justice and plan some workshops around her supplies for 2015! In late January, friends here in Winnipeg, Cindy and Cheryl, organized a wing night fundraiser for the project.... the turnout was great, we had a fantastic time and made enough money to purchase all of the art supplies and other items I typically bring each year. The LM Architectural Group was also very generous and donated some money from their annual golf tournament fundraiser....and there are many other individuals too numerous to name who have supported me each and every year and I just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you, and to send all of you Cuban kisses for making this project the success it has become.