On January 26th, 2020, Hester Street collaborated with the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico in San Juan on a powerful event that explored the ways in which art and culture preserves heritage and memory, reaffirms community identity and can prevent neighborhood displacement in the wake of Hurricane Maria, earthquakes and political tensions. Since 2018, Hester Street has worked with El MAC with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, to explore how art has advanced self-determination, climate resiliency, and racial and social justice within marginalized communities.

The day started with a walking tour of Tras Talleres and Alto del Cabro, two dynamic neighborhoods in Santurce, San Juan where most of our work has concentrated. On the tour, participants were able to visit artistic commissions of the El MAC en el Barrio program. The tour was guided by Omayra Rivera Crespo, El MAC’s Program Coordinator and poet and book artist, Nicole Cecilia Delgado, and demonstrated how neighborhood residents have used the arts—murals, music and performance—to reclaim the spaces they call home. Neighborhood residents joined us on the tour and shared their stories with the group.

Our Walking tour through Santurce

Following the tour were two panel discussions exploring how artists, activists, urban planners and cultural institutions can catalyze social change and advance self-determination across various neighborhoods in Santurce. The first panel featured two artists (Dhara Rivera and Yolanda Velázquez), a community activist (Carmen Villanueva), and an Urban Planner (Jose “Tato” Rivera Santan), where they each discussed how art and culture—though not an all-encompassing solution—has the potential to actualize the vision of safe, resilient, equitable and just communities. The second panel featured El MAC’s Executive Director and Chief Curator, Marianne Ramírez Aponte and the Curatorial Director of the Museo de Antioquia, Carlos Uribe. The pair discussed how cultural institutions can support and continue to build meaningful relationships with communities facing deeply unjust circumstances. We also showcased videos, created by Hester Street, that spotlighted these themes and strategies to address them. The event ended with a bomba performance by the local group Los Tremendos.

Learn more about our work with communities, artists and activists in Puerto Rico: