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Beta-Local, a San Juan–based nonprofit organization, that launched an emergency fund to help Puerto Ricans affected by Hurricane Maria.

Puerto Rican Arts Organizations Reopen to Help with Relief Efforts

After the devastation of Hurricane Maria, many Puerto Rican arts institutions have begun to reopen their doors and are pooling their resources to help their communities with emergency relief efforts.

According to the Art Newspaper, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico in San Juan is collecting necessities such as food, water, and medicine while organizing free music and dance performances along with other programming. “Today more than ever we are sure that art and culture will be important tools that will help our people cope and recover from this crisis,” the museum wrote in a Facebook post on September 30.

The Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña is also putting on public programming to aid the island’s healing process. Four days after the storm struck, the government’s employees were back at work and calling for volunteers to stage events to lift people’s spirits. So far, more than fifty artists have agreed to help.

Beta-Local, a cultural nonprofit that runs residency, research, and production programs, with an “experimental pedagogical platform,” launched an emergency fund for artists and cultural workers on Friday that will allow the nonprofit to channel resources directly to community-based organizations and self-organized groups responding to the crisis in different parts of the island.

In an interview with Lisa John Rogers for artforum.com, Sofia Gallisá Muriente, one of the directors of Beta-Local, said, “The initial phase will be to continue the work we're doing now, channeling resources and equipment to brigades and clearing roads or allies in communities that will be without power and clean water for a long time . . . While we do this, we hope to raise enough funds to launch a flexible re-granting program that can assist people dealing with everything from loss of income and workshops to the recovery and continuation of preexisting cultural projects and spaces.”

While Gallisá Muriente said that Puerto Rico has already seen an immense amount of support, she is concerned about the long-term plan to help the island, since it will take years for it to recover, and stressed the need for international solidarity. “In a place with deep preexisting economic challenges, a diverse and vibrant cultural scene persisted thanks to people’s solidarity and generosity and without any major institutional support or market viability. Hurricane Maria is a serious threat to our intellectual and artistic production, and will inevitably be a turning point in our history.”

People can help by buying items on the organization’s Amazon registry page and mailing them directly to the nonprofit. Beta-Local staff will then work on distributing the items to those in need. A list of essential materials can be accessed here.

Mercado Caribeño (MECA), an international art fair that premiered last summer, is also accepting donations on their website. The funds will go toward Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico, Fundación Hospital Pedriático, and other hospitals in need of support. MECA told artforum.com that after the hurricane they will have to rethink their entire business strategy.

In addition to fundraising, director and cofounder of MECA Tony Rodríguez told Rogers that the international art community can help Puerto Rico by “offering grants, fellowships and residencies for this specific population; allying with local art organizations on cultural partnerships; offering temporary space in their depositories to help with artwork conservancy; and providing new opportunities that can be offered in general to art professionals (such as curators, cultural affair managers and advisers) who also need to recommence their careers as many projects will be put on hold indefinitely.”

She added, “After the passage of these catastrophic events, the Caribbean is reinventing itself, not only rebuilding to be stable, but re-imagining what the best version of this—culturally rich and complex—region will be.”

The art fair will also have to rethink its role for the foreseeable future. “The plans have definitely changed,” Rodríguez said. “We have to make sure that the second edition of MECA is much more accessible, with a more social approach and a reinforced educational program. We have, now more than ever, a great responsibility with our country and we need for this project to reverberate beyond the walls that give rise to the fair. Puerto Rico needed events like MECA prior to the hurricane and now it will be vital that this type of cultural or entertainment projects continue to take shape. Art heals the soul and we are going to work for that relief.”

To learn of more ways to help, the organization Americans for the Arts compiled a list of options on their website.

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