Less than two weeks after Hurricane Maria brought the island to a standstill, the Puerto Rico Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC by its Spanish initials) opened its gates and celebrated the event Luz Verde a la Cultura. The storm inspired art and creative writing workshops, while live music and dance performances offered a respite from the crisis.
This was the beginning of the MAC's reinvention after the hurricane. An interdisciplinary arts organization founded in 1984, the MAC is using its resources, through cultural projects and events, to contribute to the recovery process. Along with helping the artistic community get back on its feet, the MAC is working with underserved communities in Santurce and Rio Piedras with which it has built ties during the past five years through the community arts program, MAC en el Barrio.
Having suffered minimal structural damage and with electric power restored relatively quickly to their building in Santurce, the MAC was able to use its facilities to offer services such as collecting basic necessity items and setting up a center where people could fill out FEMA applications.
One of their biggest post-Maria projects was a three week Emergency Educational and Cultural Program through which they offered art and social awareness classes to 70 students ages 4 to 16 whose schools were closed after the hurricane; psychosocial services for the elderly and for families to deal with the emotional toll of the hurricane; and events for the general public which included concerts, dance performances, an art auction, among others.
The MAC also extended a hand to other cultural institutions such as the Puerto Rico Music Conservatory, which used the museum as a rehearsal space for several weeks; the literary event, Festival de la Palabra, which could not take place in its originally planned venue; and held fundraising events for Casa Museo Ismael Rivera and La Junta, a cultural and culinary space on Calle Loiza which was destroyed by the storm.
Local artists who lost their workshops were offered space in the museum to continue to work and also given information about emergency grants and funds. The MAC also helps artists become employed through commissions, including working with the MAC en el Barrio program, and by hiring them to offer workshops.
Currently the MAC en el Barrio program is expanding to communities in Cataño and Guaynabo. The museum is in the process of acquiring a second location in the Amelia neighborhood of Guaynabo in order to offer more workspace to artists and service these communities directly.
"After the two hurricanes (Irma and Maria) we've seen the immense contribution of culture as a healing project for the country but also as a project for economic development. These are things that have always been there but after the hurricanes I believe our work has demonstrated the importance of culture in all these processes," stressed Marianne Ramirez, executive director and curator in chief of the MAC.