Turning an aging, crumbling community into a work of art

By Philly Bubaris

Rick Ricioppo/JWW

HAVANA – The streets of Havana are lined with dilapidated concrete homes, stained gray from years of neglect. There are electric wires hanging every which way and clothes hanging from balconies on what look like abandoned homes.

But in West Havana, there is a town called Lawton, with murals lining the streets, covering the cracked and tainted walls. A group of 11 artists joined together to start Project Muraleando with the goal of increasing the quality of life for the community of 1,200 people.

So far, there are more than 3,000 square-feet of paintings and sculptures throughout the town. Many of the pieces are made out of garbage that was previously scattered on the streets.

“As all the big cities in the world have their Arc de Triomphe, we have ours,” said one artist, Miguel Martin, of an arch made of old tire rims, spray painted, stacked up and welded together. “Okay, this one is a little bit smaller than the Paris one. But it is ours.”

The group also organizes salsa, painting and ceramic workshops for the children in the community.

Mario Delgado Sotomayor, 25, lost his mother at age 17 and began doing illegal work on the black market.  He was thrown in prison for three years and eight months. After he was released, he found shelter in Lawton and joined Project Muraleando.

Delgado Sotomayor aspires to be a rapper and teaches children in the community how to safely express themselves.

“I teach the young guys of the neighborhood how to perform as a rapper, to use good words in the lyrics of the songs,” he said. “And also, that it is not necessary to use bad words if you want to express something that is inside your heart.”

There are no sponsors for this project, so to raise money for the community, these artists commercialize their work and give half of the money they make back to the project.

In the center of the town is a “Pole of Friendship.” Listed on this pole are the names of the many countries that have visited the town. Visitors are asked to walk around the pole and touch the place they are from while wishing for world peace.

Nivia Herrera has been painting for 35 years and many of her murals cover the walls of the town. “I just paint the way I feel and with the energy I may have in the moment,” she said.

Groups who come to visit the town are welcome to leave their mark on the community. One American group brought a sketch with them to the community and, together with the artists, created a mural made of their handprints in a heart.

This group of artists plans to continue Project Muraleando. Their spirited efforts have turned Lawton from a grim and dark community into a beautiful and bright place for Cubans to live and visitors to see.

Listen here for a audio piece on the community by David Morris:

Mario “Mayito” Delgado by David Morris 11