There was an era when artists would have been reprimanded for painting on abandoned buildings but times have changed, for the most part in the Santurce Arts District.
Santurce es Ley (Santurce is Law) celebrates artistic empowerment which transformed an urban neglected neighborhood into a fashion forward open-air art gallery showcasing an amazing public display of murals created by great artists from Puerto Rico and around the world.
Santurce es Ley Urban Art Festival is an annual celebration that takes place technically in Santurce but closer to the Miramar district on Hoare and Cerra streets. Last year, about 20 artists participated not only from Puerto Rico but from the Dominican Republic, Holland, England, Canada, and U.S mainland. As you walk through Cerra Street you can instantly feel the artsy vibe and the uplifting energy emanating from the people, the art on the buildings, and the galleries open to the general public so they can walk around and explore.
But Santurce es Ley is much more. Visitors can listen to great live bands or Djs, grab local street fare sold at food trucks, buy artisan made goods and tattoos, run into friends to grab a beer at popular bars like El Watusi and Las Palmas, or just have a great time hanging out and making new friends.
There’s lots of liveliness, hunger to explore, and an air of youthfulness not only physically but spiritually. A smile or friendly gesture, a genuine quality of Puerto Ricans, never fails.
Nonetheless, this festival began in an unpredicted manner.
Eight years ago, Alexis Bousquet had an audacious idea. The artist who owned his own gallery on Cerra Street was looking to do something different, so he decided to take his art out to the street, literally – and decided to hold a street art fair. The event was so successful, Bousquet decided to develop a strategic plan.
“We painted murals and lots of people arrived,” Bousquet told Bienvenidos. “We noticed that we could change this neighborhood that was extremely abandoned.”
He began his quest to search for muralists for the next edition, making himself a curator of the event. “It’s interesting what the artists say through their work. They are powerful messages. Even if the artists are foreign they become affected about what’s happening in Puerto Rico. Their art tell stories about frustration with the government, corruption, among other issues.”
There is art that asks questions, whimsical, that begs to be explored deeper and there is art about where Puerto Rico came from, it is, and currently heading.
Canadian muralist Danae Brissonet showcases a mystical creature with elements that symbolize the ocean, hurricane, and natural richness of Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, the mural painted by Dominican artist
Evaristo Angurria from impressionism to realism represents two women – a red and blue – that rembodies a fraternal tie between Puerto Rico and its sister country, the Dominican Republic.
The 2018 edition of Santurce es Ley also included an installation called “Are we okay” from artist Mark Rivera, where a toy car (represented the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico) goes on a rollercoaster built over trash – debris left behind by the hurricane. The artwork provokes curiosity and reflection.
Next the visitor comes across a mural of two doves intertwined painted by Ana Marietta and the pigeon created by Belgian artist Adele Renault. Both stimulate the imagination and invite visitors to keep exploring this renovated environment on Cerra Street that despite the presence of these works of art conserves its old school neighborhood ambiance.
According to Bousquet, the selected artists to take part in Santurce es Ley are distinguished for the quality of their work and tendency to continue working no matter any limitation that c ould occur.
“Sometimes the artists are not well known but they should be and other times they are talented and the event provides promotion,” Bousquet added.
As the night falls and the darkness makes it difficult to appreciate with clarity the details of the murals and plastic arts. Now the day acquires another dynamic, an evening of partying. From the speakers, the loud salsa music playing reminds us that we are at the quintessential corner of the Caribbean, where Ruben Blades sings for us to continue “buscando guayaba” and Hector Lavoe reminds us to “entren, que caben cien.” The celebration just begins. There is so much more to see in Santurce and its Bousquet who keeps reminding us. “It’s important to search for more information of what was and is Santurce. Not to only be aware of what you see at first sight.” So come to the next festival and immerse yourself entirely in the canvas called Santurce.