Mi Casa es Su Casa – My home is your home – is a Spanish phrase that reflects recent efforts of local artists M. Katherine Hurley and Jens G. Rosenkrantz, Jr., who established a cultural exchange with artists in Cuba.  Now their theme has changed to Puentes No Muros – Bridges Not Walls – reflecting a united view of the world, an homage to Pope Francis’ heed to President Donald Trump.

Rosenkrantz became enamored with the idea of visiting Cuba when he lived in Miami in the 1990’s.  To him, the country was forbidden fruit which attracted him.  “You weren’t able to talk about Cuba growing up,” said Rosenkrantz.  The idea obsessed him until he gave it a try.  He wanted to go before McDonalds and Starbucks arrived.

Cuba started out as a fascination because we could not go there, but after each trip the fascination has been replaced by friendships and a better understanding of a country and culture, that is most unlike our own,” Rosenkrantz said.  

“I was a little nervous about going in June 2015,” said Rosenkrantz.  

The couple soon realized, however, they couldn’t fly directly to Havana because of travel restrictions to Cuba even though they had been eased.  Initially, they flew to Toronto and took Air Canada to Havana.

Slight glitches arose.  For one, US visitors can’t use American credit cards or US dollars in Cuba.  Visitors need to purchase items with the Cuban Convertible Peso, CUC, for monetary transactions.  Tourists can obtain required Visas at the boarding gate.  

Rosenkrantz had a solo show of his Cuban photographs at Main Street Yoga In July 2015.  Rosenkrantz and Hurley also hosted a show entitled Ahora Cuba at the Clifton Cultural Art Center the following March.  Hurley contributed photos, pastels and paintings.  In addition to photographs by Rosenkrantz, the show displayed twenty-five pieces the couple purchased in Cuba.   

Fast forward to mid-2016. Rosenkrantz and his artist wife Kay Hurley decided to try their hand at a project where American artists would exchange their work with Cuban artists.  The project involves no sales; it is purely an exchange.  They chose three exhibits, one in Havana and two in Cincinnati.  Rosenkrantz and Hurley put a lot of their own money into the project as a gesture of good will between the two countries as well as amongst the artists.  To transport art, the couple chose 16 x 20 panels so they could wrap the canvas and carry it in their luggage.

During their trips, including one in January 2017, Rosenkrantz and Hurley established contacts in Cuba, including artists Manual ‘Lolo’ Alverez, Ercadel ‘Sole’ Sanchez and Cesar Castillo Barrera.  They also met Yudith Vargas Riveron, who added layers to the project because she is plugged into the artist community in Cuba.   Language problems emerged:  Neither Rosenkrantz or Hurley speaks Spanish.  An art professor, Riveron acted as their interpreter as well as guide.

Riveron arranged a complete schedule of studio visits when the couple traveled to Havana for four days in early March 2017.  They eventually secured a gallery space in the studio of Rigoberto Mena for the Cuban exhibit to be held in October 27, 2017.

Barbara Hauser, community relations manager at Procter & Gamble, agreed to participate with her Red Door Project, a pop-up art gallery, in the exhibit of US artists on Final Friday at the Pendleton Art Center on March 31, 2017.   Phase one of Puentes No Muros opened in conjunction with Red Door with 30 US artists in Studio 703 at the Pendleton.

Hauser will join Rosenkrantz and Hurley in the trip to Havana in the fall of this year for phase two.  An exhibit opens on October 27 with 30 Cuban pieces and 30 US pieces.  On October 29, the artist couple will transfer regional American work to Cuban artists.  They will bring back Cuban work to Cincinnati for exhibition at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.

Some of the thirty local artists participating include Talerico, Satogata, Ahlbrand, Carothers, Brown Checco, Storer and Wiggins.

Kim Krause, vice president for academic affairs and academic dean, Art Academy of Cincinnati, lent his support for the US exhibit in mid-November 2017 and has enlisted a few students to join the project.  There will be 30 US works and 30 Cuban works shown at the Art Academy. At the closing of the exhibit in November, US artists will receive their Cuban partners’ work.  

Also tentatively scheduled for fall 2017 is a proposed lecture about life in Cuba given by Cuban artists at the Mercantile Library.

Hurley said, “I think I can speak for all the artists born American and Cuban that we truly believe that through art we can build bridges of love and friendship.  We are just people, all the same, all artists wanting to connect with one another and share our stories,” said Hurley.

Both Rosenkrantz and Hurley share the passion of this exchange.  Artists in their own right – he is a photographer and she is a landscape artist – enjoy the camaraderie of artists as well as purposeful travel.  Rather than sitting on a beach, they worked long hours to make this project happen.  

Rosenkrantz and Hurley played a part in the resurgence of traveling to Cuba and participating in the artists’ lives.   “I cannot imagine now that we will ever stop going there,” said Rosenkrantz.  The couple hopes to have a 2019 Cuban and American exchange, but no dates or venues have been set.  They even think that they may eventually include other countries that would fit the theme of Puentes No Muros.

–Laura Hobson


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