The island of Puerto Rico is known for many beautiful things, from beaches and people, to the tropical rainforest and more recently, its street art. Within the capital city of San Juan, one district has embraced the art of graffiti, once considered to be polluting its then barren walls, and has developed into a center of color and creativity. Since 2010, a summer art festival called Santurce es Ley (Santurce is law) has been held, where local and international artists showcase their wonderful works of art as murals throughout the neighborhood.
As the urban areas in San Juan began to develop in the 80s and 90s, it left Santurce behind as people preferred modernity versus the smaller and low key shops and restaurants it was known for. Hence, the once thriving hub began to stagnate. The Union of Independent Art in Puerto Rico desires to revive the neighborhood with individual artists coming together and presenting their talent and craft, while seeing building walls as canvases. Artists from Puerto Rico and around the world are repeatedly invited to express themselves, in turn further developing the once gritty area. Many murals are painted on abandoned or rundown buildings, some surround empty lots. The rustic style of the neighborhood adds an old school element while protruding modernity of art and color breaks through. This is all part of the reason as to why Santurce es Ley came about, there was the desire to bring back purpose to the abandoned areas of Puerto Rico and use the developing urban art scene to do so.
Humorously, but very down with the times, many of the artists leave their instagram usernames instead of signatures at the corner of their murals. It makes sense that an insta plug probably does more for the artists in terms of publicity and grants onlookers the ability to follow them and keep up with their other projects.
The festival successfully attracts around 15,000 people each year who see the art of over 20 artists invited to come and expand their ideas and plaster them around the area. Many tend to incorporate the local culture into their murals, with the hopes of correctly representing the island to those who visit. One mural, for example, does this by depicting famous puerto rican baseball player, Roberto Clemente. This icon can be seen above a small, empty car lot. Decades after the baseball hall of famers’ tragic death, Clemente is still a beloved figure in the Puerto Rican community, and it is not surprising the artist (insta @esagente), chose him to hover above passerbiers.
Calle Cerra (“calle” = “street” for those who don’t remember anything from their Spanish 1 course in high school), is said to be the center of Santurce by artist Alexis Bousquet, founder of the Santurce es Ley project. If you start your tour here, the surrounding art will guide you, with one big, colorful mural following the next for several blocks. Some of the pieces are larger than life, one image shows a comic-book style portrait of a woman and takes up half the side of a three story apartment building.
With such creative concepts and styles, Santurce is reaching the goal of becoming undeniably incomparable as for what it means to the community bringing a renewed interest to them and their infrastructure. Locals see more people now coming to visit and spectate than there would be if the project had never started.
The Union of Independent Art has seen Santurce es Ley become so successful it has begun to move around the island, searching for other areas lacking the attention it once had and handing it back to them. This year in April, the art festival was held in the southern municipality of Ponce, Puerto Rico. But don’t be alarmed, it hasn’t forgotten about Santurce, soon the festival will make its rounds back to its birthplace and continue its yet unfinished work. But in the meantime it is making a huge difference to the communities living in sites of crumbling infrastructure. With this initiative it is hoped Puerto Rico will emerge as an international center for urban art and culture.