A Lucky Year
This year was lucky #7 for me…. more about that later. What an interesting year it was as well with all of the recent international discussions going on between Cuba and the United States....everyone was curious to know if things were already changing in Cuba as a result. Other than a noticeable amount of infrastructure updates visible in the streets and badly needed hotel construction going on, it appears on the surface to have not changed drastically, and in speaking with many Cuban friends they will confirm this generally to be the case. One thing that I did notice though, was that there were a lot more Cubans walking around with cell phones this year.
Every year during the April “Arts Encounter” a number of arts and construction related projects are initiated in or around El Tanque, the neighbourhood’s community centre. A new staircase leading to a second entrance into the facility was constructed this year, followed by street-scaping, new sculptural installations, mural work etc. It never ceases to amaze me how much work gets accomplished in a two week period.
Another very noticeable change was the non-stop tour buses visiting the project on a daily basis, sometimes 6 times throughout the day and evening! And yes, most of them, American tourists. I spent a lot of time as the Canadian “ambasadora” talking, dining and dancing with the tourists visiting the project. My unique perspective from the last 7 years was the main topic of discussion during dinner tours. I met a lot of very interesting people from all over the United States who were absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity finally to be there, albeit still not totally free to travel on their own to or in Cuba, but very interested and eager to learn about Cuban culture and people.
Of course my main responsibility each year is to provide art workshops for the community during the festival. This year the focus was on jewelry making for the most part, with the exception of the grandmothers’ group.
One workshop was given to the younger children where they made beautiful seed bead necklaces with hand-printed cork pendants. The second workshop was with the older teens and they made stunning paper bead bracelets which required a little more hand dexterity. But the primary use for most of the materials was focussed on a small handpicked group of artists who were invited to a two-day workshop on basic jewelry making techniques. I created kits which were presented to each artist with enough supplies and tools, not only for the workshop but for many months to come.
The grandmothers’ workshop this year was the largest to date.... I love this group. As a special project we decided to create a small but permanent installation for one of the classrooms on the site to showcase to visitors and others in the community what the group is all about. The group decided to make embellished hearts out of fabric that I later incorporated into an installation involving a beautiful found birdcage. As the years go by I continue to do what I can to help this community that has become one very large extended family. And each year the moment I return, I am already thinking about the year to come, and the “gathering” begins yet again for all of the supplies. And special thanks this year go out to my major “corporate” sponsor, LM Architectural Group for their continued support and to the Air Canada Foundation for their help with Baggage Allowances this year. People always say to me that what I do is amazing, but the fact is, that I would not be able to do what I do, to the extent that I do each and every year, without all of the support from everyone. So, besos to you all and un gran abrazo!
Remember at the beginning of this update I mentioned it was lucky year #7 for me..... well at the Closing Ceremony of this year's Arts Encounter, I was introduced to Cuban curator, Magdalena Rivas from the Galleria de Arte, Luz Y Oficios. She invited me to participate in an International Exhibition she was curating in July, which included artists from Cuba, Germany, Colombia, Spain, and Italy. So upon my return at the end of April, I began work on 6 new Meditations on Landscape/ Havana pieces, specifically for the exhibition, and in July I was back in Havana for two weeks to attend the opening of the exhibition at La Moderna Galeria in Centro Havana. I was also invited to participate in an artists’ talk, which allowed me to present other work from my portfolio and to meet other Cuban artists and hear about their work and struggles as professional artists in Cuba.