One week after Hurricane Maria, the Ponce Museum of Art (MAP by its Spanish initials) opened its doors to the public, offering free admission, as well as guided tours, art workshops, and storytelling for children. It became a space for recharging and relief in the midst of the crisis that followed the storm. Of the almost 3,600 people who visited the MAP that month, about a third didn't participate in any activities. They simply sat down to contemplate the art or walked through the halls of the museum.
"They just wanted to be in a place felt normal, to feel inspired and get the strength to go on," says Sofía Cánepa, Chief of Information and Community Outreach for MAP.
Access to the museum had a positive effect on the residents of Ponce. The community initiatives that have followed emphasized the importance of art as a means to face and process difficult moments and the value of making art accessible to all people, regardless of their background.
After the hurricane, the MAP established an alliance with the Ricky Martin Foundation and the Department of Recreation and Sports to bring recreational and family programming to different municipalities of Puerto Rico. As part of this project, the museum offered art workshops in the public squares of towns such as Florida and Loíza. Support from the FORWARD Puerto Rico Fund enabled the MAP to conduct art workshops, which include materials and teachers, to communities in Ponce and the surrounding towns. All of these activities provided the space to children and families to express creatively the diversity of emotions associated with Puerto Rico's current situation.
"It made us feel much closer to the people. It gives greater meaning to our work. We are doing something tangible for communities that were already totally disadvantaged since before the hurricane,” affirms Cánepa.
The MAP also resumed two projects that began before the hurricane. One includes bringing minimal security inmates under the custody of the Department of Correction to the museum for an art workshop. Another project with the Albergue Cristo Pobre de Ponce, takes art workshops to the homeless.
"(This work) has been tremendously significant and has made us rethink our importance. Hurricane Maria has led to a profound and enriching change for all of us who work here, posing new challenges, new ways to do our work. It has given new relevance to cultural organizations and what they are doing to reach those people they haven't reached before," explains Cánepa.