My involvement began when I first met an artist who was visiting Canada for an exhibition he was a part of here 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. During a conversation with one of them, I found out that aside from being an artist, he was a co-ordinator for a little project in his neighbourhood – that project was Muraleando and his name was Manuel Diaz Baldrich!

  Painting by Manuel Diaz Baldrich

Painting by Manuel Diaz Baldrich

By the time he left my studio and home that day I had volunteered to come to Havana the following spring to conduct free art workshops for the children in his neighbourhood.

I fell in love immediately with Havana, with the people but even more so with the children of Muraleando.

It has now become an annual pilgrimage every April when Murealando hosts a two week festival of the arts. And each year I come down with suitcases stuffed with art supplies and sundries for the children and other residents in the community. I give art classes to the children, the volunteer artists of Muraleando and now I am reaching out into other sectors of the community. 

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 maintain a relatively successful fulltime 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.

In turn the residents of Muraleando have left a huge permanent impression embedded in my heart and a mind full of cherished memories that will never be forgotten and continue to grow. 

Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2013

Local prayer flags headed to Cuba

public invited to take part in project today

By: Brenda Suderman

 JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Mixed-media artist and printmaker Deborah Danelley will take completed flags with her to Cuba in April.

Mixed-media artist and printmaker Deborah Danelley will take completed flags with her to Cuba in April.

A Winnipeg congregation hopes their prayers for friendship and peace will soon float in the warm Cuban breeze.
"They are visual reminders of prayerful intentions," Rev. Teresa Moysey of Harrow United Church says of the prayer flags her church plans to send to Cuba.

Members of Harrow -- as well as the general public -- are invited to decorate a prayer flag today with mixed-media artist and printmaker Deborah Danelley.
The free sessions are open to children this morning from 10 to noon, and to adults from 1 to 4:30 p.m. at Harrow United Church, 955 Mulvey Ave.

Danelley will provide each participant with a piece of white fabric measuring 20 by 30 centimetres to embellish with fabric, paints or stamps. She'll take the completed flags with her to Havana, Cuba, in April, where she'll teach several workshops in a week-long cultural festival in Muraleando.

Muraleando is a community art project that encourages residents to paint murals and other artwork on walls and buildings in a poor Havana neighbourhood. Every April, residents are invited to a cultural festival packed with art, theatre, music and dance workshops. This year will mark Danelley's fifth visit to teach art classes at the festival.

The Crescentwood resident pays her travel and living expenses in Havana, but accepts donations to purchase new art supplies for her workshops. This year, she'll also squeeze the prayer flags into her suitcases, and once in Cuba, will exchange them for the flags made during the festival.

"I hear the words solidarity, friendship, peace and hope," she says of her intentions behind the project.
"These are basic kind of things, but they're at the heart of what (the flags) are about."

Prayer flags originated in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, where small pieces of coloured fabric decorated with words or symbols are strung from trees or buildings. As the flags flap in the wind, Buddhists believe their prayers carry beneficial vibrations across the countryside.

Moysey says her congregation will hang the Cuban-made prayer flags inside their sanctuary as well as outside their building on the corner of Mulvey Avenue and Harrow Street. She's not clear how the relationship between Harrow United and the Cuban artists will develop, but she's confident it will grow in unexpected ways.

"Connecting with others changes who we are individually and collectively and helps us understand how we are part of a larger whole, a world community," Moysey explains in an email interview from Victoria, B.C., where she was attending a seminar.

The congregation has previous experience with prayer flags. A few years back, they strung some outside their building, allowing them to blow in the wind until they were tattered and faded.
Danelley first visited Harrow United one Sunday morning last fall to speak about her annual art workshops in Cuba as part of the church's series exploring the connection between art and justice, Moysey explains.

That series continues on Sunday with a presentation by Nadine Calver on the spirituality of quilting. On Feb. 17, members of the congregation's digital photography group will display photographs of sacred spaces.

"One of the ways we are exploring those connections is to have an artist approximately once a month at our Sunday worship, with an invitation to share how art has brought about transformation individually or in the community," says Moysey.

"Art is a way that integrates head, heart and soul as we explore and express faith and faith questions."

Danelley admits she's been transformed by her annual visits to Havana, which were sparked by a chance meeting with Manuel Diaz Baldrich during his 2008 visit here for an exhibit at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery. Although she speaks minimal Spanish, she's built strong connections with Baldrich and other Cuban artists, and hopes to further that relationship with her annual visits to Havana.
Raised Anglican but no longer a churchgoer, Danelley believes she has found her true calling in making -- and sharing -- art.

"For me, it was something else that led me to art, something spiritual," says Danelley, who first studied fine arts in her 30s.
"I never knew why I was led that way until my first year in Muraleando."

Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION - Posted: February 9, 2011 2:33 AM 

Artist enriched by the colour of the Cuban community 

By: Simon Fuller

A group of neighbourhood kids enjoying an art workshop held by Debbie Danelley. 

Debbie Danelley believes that fate is an art form.

The Fort Rouge resident is preparing for a third annual trip to Havana, Cuba for what she calls "part vacation, part volunteer work."

It started with an arranged meeting in Danelley’s Winnipeg studio with visiting Cuban artist Manolo Diaz Baldrich in 2008, whose work was part of a show at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery.

Danelley was struck by his passion for art, and with the help of a translator, the two struck up a conversation. Eventually, armed with suitcases full of art supplies, Danelley headed to Cuba the following year. The rest, as she says, is art history.

"This will be my third year going into an impoverished neighbourhood in Havana and teaching art to kids," said Danelley, 54, noting that an ongoing community project in the area, called The Muraleando, has just celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Danelley said her first experience teaching art workshops brought her to tears.

"While I was in the workshop, I heard a noise on the street. It was a group of kids, aged between eight and 16, who just couldn’t wait to get started. At the end of the session, their parents had to drag them away," Danelley said.

The Muraleando project has grown to include approximately a dozen local artists who have worked to improve the appearance of the area by painting murals and constructing outdoor art installations.

"Last April, I was honoured to be asked to create a permanent art installation for the boulevard in front of one of their latest block-long murals," Danelley said, adding that the project was thematically inspired by the concept of nesting, because "that’s what the community was beginning to do in its environment."

The installation used local materials — "its not like you can just go down the street to Rona" — and consists of twisted metal that is weaved and then welded on to a rusted pole that stands approximately nine feet tall.

Danelley said this year she expects to be holding workshops centred around printmaking techniques, including lino cuts and etching on copper plates.

She said her experiences in Cuba have been life-changing and humbling, because the community is extremely welcoming despite intense heat and the fact the average monthly Cuban salary is $15.

Danelley added that to help buy supplies for her first trip to Havana in 2009,  a "teacher friend of mine organized a fundraiser at Laura Secord School, where children there had a pie sale which helped raise money." Since then, Laura Secord student Hannah Doucet has helped out by selling cards at the Wolseley school and a local community centre.