Written by: Rafael Lopez Ramos | Featured Image: Abey Charron for Santurce es Ley (Photo by Stephanie Segarra)
Forget about Old San Juan, the Condado area or Isla Verde, the new hip neighborhood in San Juan, Puerto Rico is Santurce. A place once abandoned by local government due to high poverty and crime, was considered one of the poorest neighborhoods on the island. Today, music and art spaces like La Respuesta, C787 Studios, Espacio 1414, El Local, Roberto Paradise, Chemi Room, and La15, peak a curiosity and bring attention to the area. Urban festivals like Santurce es Ley and Los Muros Hablan, express the color and life that a creative community can bring to a neighborhood.
Santurce was a place mostly associated with crime and drug use. No matter the time of day, throughout the neighborhood of Santurce, one would stumble upon the dreadful population of heroin addicts, unable to connect with reality, referred to as ‘zombies’. As fate would have it, by 2003, things began to change with the arrival of Tito Rovira’s Galeria Comercial’s warehouse space, which pioneered the cultural movement of Santurce. It has been sometime since the gallery closed but Rovira followed with the opening of Roberto Paradise gallery which is noted as one of the most interesting Puerto Rico has, showcasing the best of up and coming contemporary visual artists. La Respuesta, located in the former Galeria Comerical space, compliments Roberto Paradise by offering the best in underground music, performance and visual art from the area. The owner, Jose ‘Fofito’ Morales believes in creating spaces were artists can freely express themselves. Morales continues to succeed in bringing people from every social class, race and varied political views together through artistic endeavors.
Another equally important space is C787 Studios owned by Alexis Bousquet, or ‘Lexo’, a 2003 graduate of Pratt Institute’s Graphic Design and Art Direction program, highlights innovative graphic and web design services for Santurce. His studio is a combined office and gallery space that promotes emergent artists who work with several mediums, but focuses mostly on street art, graffiti, and sculpture, along with graphic design. To celebrate the first anniversary of C787 Studios they organized a street art festival called Santurce es Ley which displayed the scale and presence of an emerging creative community. Participating artists filled every exterior wall with vibrant, expressive street art. Old, dirty, grey buildings around ‘Calle Cerra’ once paraded by ‘zombies’ somehow took on a whole new meaning of cultural pride. Santurce es Ley was the catalyst and art was the vehicle to bring to the surface something previously neglected.
Another important player who helped revive the area is Celso Gonzalez, an incredible visual artist , who along with ‘Fofito’ Morales created Los Muros Hablan (The Walls Talk) Festival, focusing on bringing the best mural and street artists from all around the world to collaborate with local artists in Santurce.
The exceptional quality of artwork displayed at both festivals created a buzz not only in Puerto Rico, but all over the world. The success of Los Muros Hablan spurred a partnership with El Museo del Barrio in East Harlem New York to celebrate street art culture of the neighborhood. In 2011, the NY Times featured an article focused on how Santurce aspired to be the arts mecca of San Juan; today it proves to be so. Santurce’s creative economy includes an array of small businesses including restaurants, cafes, bars like El Local, designer studios, and a consistent flow of new art galleries. Environmentally sustainable initiatives which promote green tourism continue to flourish, encouraging locals and visitors to the area to rent bikes instead of drive with the added benefit of seeing spectacular street art. (Article related in Catalyst) Crime has dropped, and the people of the land embrace Santurce in a new way.
Santurce has been transformed into a creative city highlighting young, vibrant creatives. The transformation could not have had happened without the proactive spirits and creative vision of C787 Studios and La Respuesta’s, who brought with them their DIY attitudes. As the palm trees sway and the sun shines bright on the Caribbean Island the energy of cultural creatives continue to keep the heart of Santurce thumping to a Latin beat.
About the Author
Rafael López Ramos was born and raised in the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. He graduated Magna Cum Laude in Arts Education from the University of Puerto Rico. While working within the public school system, Rafael soon learned about the need to implement better arts programs. With many contacts in the art world, and a desire to use them for good, Rafael is currently pursuing his Masters in Arts and Cultural Management at the Pratt Institute, New York, with the goal to achieve awareness and understanding of modern contemporary art forms.