Hands Across Havana is a visual art initiative that I had the pleasure of coordinating and presenting while participating on a worker-to-worker exchange program this past March in Havana, Cuba. The exchange, coordinated by Co-Development Canada and CUPE BC’s International Solidarity Committee, offered six CUPE members from across British Columbia an experience of a lifetime.
One of my main goals and objectives while participating on the exchange was to create a meaningful visual arts project. Without having a confirmed job description prior to leaving Canada, I was not convinced that I would be able to carry out my special art initiative.
Thankfully, with the support and sincere interest received from Opus Framing and Art Supplies, and a $200.00 contribution from my local union CUPE Local 23, I was able to take on Hands Across Havana and truly leave an imprint on both Cuba and Canada. This is community support at its finest – bringing individuals, organizations, artists and children together to experience the beauty and benefit of art first hand.
The project first began late February at Second Street Community School in Burnaby with students from Mr. Fraser’s grade 6/7 classes. I presented the details of my special project and inspired by their new assignment, the children decorated the interior of their traced handprints using mixed media and collage. Each hand was then carefully mounted and sent to Cuba along with a personal letter of friendship.
The second part of the project involved traveling to Cuba. Once I arrived in Cuba I was informed that I would be working at the Havana Zoo. Initially I was somewhat apprehensive, yet excited to have such an unusual job placement. I was a bit nervous because I was unsure as to whether I would have the necessary ingredient to complete my project – children! Fortunately, they had an education center at the Havana Zoo where students from local schools attended educational and art programs to learn about conservation, animal habitat and future employment opportunities at the Zoo. With support from my translator Dr. Robmay Garcia (a young veterinarian), my two Cuban counter parts Maricele and Liberty, and 50 elementary school students from central Havana, my project had become a success. We were able to create some amazing and powerful works of art!
As I reflect on my experience with Hands Across Havana I recognize how it has deeply impacted my perspective as an artist, recreation leader, and art educator. Art touches each of us in different ways. As artists we all have the ability to connect people, countries, and perspectives. I recognize that traveling to another country is not available to everyone, but you don’t have to leave Canada or your own community in order to make a difference. For me, it is very important to create opportunities for people to explore their creativity and imaginations through the use of visual art. Hands Across Havana is a project that I hope will continue to evolve and grow, and allow for other experiences and opportunities that will bring people together to learn and inspire.