The Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico (El MAC) is a collecting institution and vibrant cultural center that, in Hurricane Maria’s wake, was transformed into an emergency relief hub for the multicultural, densely populated, majority low-income Santurce district of San Juan. Beginning in 2018, Hester Street (HST) partnered with El MAC and San Juan’s Housing Workshop to develop a community plan for cultural economic development and long-term resiliency in the Santurce area.

The team analyzed neighborhood indicators and market conditions, mapped community assets and identified program opportunities. We also worked with local artists to engage residents in planning and design workshops to identify critical community needs and priorities. Along with this, we conducted site analyses for potential built environment interventions. Using arts and culture as tools for urban and social transformation, HST produced a plan that identifies programs, partnerships, resources and action steps to bolster El MAC as the center for cultural, economic and long-term resiliency in Puerto Rico. 

HST built on this planning work in 2020 in collaboration with El MAC and La Maraña, a local advocacy and planning nonprofit, to engage area artists and activists in advancing community-driven vacant land re-development projects. HST and the National Endowment for Arts (NEA) hosted multiple workshops to supplement El MAC en el Barrio, culminating in the Estamos Aquí event in January 2020, which brought together community members and artists to discuss the role of arts and culture in self-determination and social, racial, and climate justice. 

Later in 2020, HST partnered with El MAC, the Centro para la Reconstrucción del Hábitat (CRH), architect Omayra Rivera Crespo, and the Asociación de Residentes de Tras Talleres to create a community action plan to guide the transformation of a historic neighborhood landmark into the Museo de la Memoria de Tras Talleres (Memory Museum of Tras Talleres). Today, the Museo de la Memoria offers a space for the community to share their history through collections, exhibits, and programming that looks to the future of the neighborhood while honoring the collective past.