Far from the city center, in an everyday neighborhood known as Lawton, lays a stunning display of art that stretches throughout an entire community. Its name is “Muraleando” and it is quite a sight to behold.
Walking around Proyecto (“project”) Muraleando, one finds painted muros (“walls”); dance, theater and music workshops held for children; and exhibitions of painting, drawing and handicrafts on every corner. Exploring Muraleando, one can gain a better understand of the tough shortages that Cuba has to endure – deficiencies are present in the run-down buildings and atypical art materials. However, equally apparent to the Muraleando visitor is the creativity, resourceful and passion that abounds in this magical place. Both are central to the project’s being.
Muraleando’s Director, Manuel Díaz Baldrich, was inspired to start the project in January 2001 to give his community something to which they could contribute, and something that would help them get through the severe shortages and tough changes of the Special Period (Cuba’s equivalent of the American Great Depression).
The Project started out quite modestly – at first, Díaz only offered small arts workshops for children in the neighborhood. Today, Muraleando has a central space – “El Tanque”, a former 1911 large water tank turned into a one-of-a-kind center. However, “El Tanque” was only established in 2010, and in the first several years of the project there was no such space. Instead, artists used the entire community as their center – walls became canvasses, streets became stages and practically everything in the area was turned into art.
Today, the result is quite spectacular. What would be abandoned courtyards or garbage dumps are now mural walls and sculpture gardens. In “El Tanque”, visual art, dance, music and theater workshops are offered to children, and craft and sewing lessons are given to disabled and abled members of the community. Outside, the neighborhood continues being a canvas for its residents. On a regular basis, artists organize cleanups and further embellishing endeavors.
Forever humble, Díaz, known as “Manolo” to his fellow artists and friends, refuses to take credit for the success of Muraleando, which received the National Prize for Community Culture in 2014. Instead, he insists that Muraleando is something made the community. Sure enough, scores of community members have contributed to and continuing working on the project. Participants come from a wide variety of professions or trade, but all chose to volunteer a part of their free time to further beautify the community. Remarkably, Muraleando does not receive any financial support. All tasks needed to be done, such as repair and maintenance, are done by community members themselves. Additionally, artists donate 50% of profits from their artwork to the project. Recently, Muraleando has started welcoming visitors to tour the community and partake in the work as well.
When you travel to Muraleando today, you have the chance to help community members with work related to the project. Art workshops are also offered to those who are interested. Most importantly, you are given the chance to join an extraordinary community and witness how art can transform a neighborhood. In the words Manolo, Muraleando works towards “the improvement of the quality of life and consciousness of the people”. It’s something you don’t want to miss.
~ Jorge Luis Acanda González, Havana, Cuba (Translated by Daniel Marion)