a growing concern
Well this was Year 6 in the Muraleando art project and this year’s two week arts festival was probably one of the most intense I have experienced to date. It 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 year old water tank), and then finally, an up close and personal musical experience with a local songbird 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 local 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 30 foot long bench in the centre’s garden....hard work but I loved it. The festival also drew two artists from Germany and one young woman from Britain who has been working in Bogota, Colombia.
Each year during the festival period one day 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 project co-ordinators 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 beachside town in Cienago de Zapata. Here we were hosted by a couple who are trying to develop a similar type of 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 finally coming along for a nice relaxing trip to the beach! 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 our new friends that I would return.
Help has so often been generously given from back in Canada but now its coming from further afield. Special thanks go out to 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 she came through but there was so much amazing material I needed to do it justice and plan some workshops around her supplies for 2015! 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.