Art in Panama it has momentum, it has style, it is accessible and most importantly it is a binding agent for the community. It has been wonderful to be aware of it, contribute to it and support it. The best part, the art scene is entirely here because the people of Panama want to express themselves, add beauty to their community, and create social interaction. In the city you find street art that has an overwhelming impact on the character of the city – a lonely basketball court on the sea, in a forgotten corner of town has been transformed into an open air art gallery. Boarded up windows have become ply-wood canvases. Walking around last week, during rush hour, an artist was simply spending her afternoon working on her mural, no big deal. I watched her for awhile, people would stop and talk to her for a bit then move on, she would focus again as if she was in her private studio.
Trash cans in Casco Viejo are all hand painted changing the boring, usually unsightly image, into a bright joyful image. Something that the community outreach program did in San Miguel for our river clean-up day, not realizing that painting trash cans was happening in the city as well, the hen house is just hip with it.
Even the public transportation is heavily cloaked in the arts, the local Diablo Rojos, privately owned retired school busses are covered in art and graphics. Images range from characters on the TV show Angry Beavers to the Last Supper, these Diablo Rojos have become a cultural symbol for Panama. Another cultural image of Panama are the Kuna Indian Mola art, graphic cloth art, extremely beautiful. Two major symbols of the culture happen to be art forms.
Another component to the art scene, are the art events, which in their pure existence indicates the momentum and life the art scene has on the community here. Last week we had the great pleasure to attend the Tántelo Hotel/ Kitchen/ Rooftop grand opening event. The hotel exists around the concept that each room has been permanently created into an art installation by different local artist, a truly fantastic concept, each room has a different voice so each guest of the hotel has a different experience, and is immediately exposed to the local art scene.
It was also the week of the MACRO Festival, which started in 2010 a yearly event in March that strives to bring music, fashion, design, film and arts into the community. With music artists like Señor Loop and big brands like Converse, Addidas, and Henieken sponsoring the event, and live art occurring at the festival, it was quite the inspiring scene. You really feel the Panamanian culture responding well to the event and enjoying interacting with it.
The art scene is more than just graphic images and art events, it is a community interaction which is so easily accessible. For instance, when my parents came to visit we shopped at little local boutique, Espacio Vintage, where my parents bought these hand painted trucker hats with paintings of spinoffs of cultural images; a bus with the face of a devil to represent the Diablo Rojos, a man and women zombie in traditional Panamanian dress. Later that night my setpdad was wearing the hat and the artist came up to him and talked to him about the art and what he hopes to do in the future with his brand MolArt– his name was Carlton Regist, and his passion was apparent, he loved to see someone wearing his art, and we loved wearing his art and meeting him. We had not only supported the local art, but got to become part of the interaction, and conservation within the same day, that does not happen in other art scenes of other cities.
Without purposeful intention I have been able to contribute to the momentum and add impact to a community in Panama through my mural project. The San Miguel mural is finished, and the space is transformed. Hopefully the arts will continue to be fostered in the San Miguel community, the response was invigorating. I have heard of towns aiming to be the mural capital of the world, maybe San Miguel can enter the competition, form the responses during the mural, I believe the town could paint every single surface in San Miguel.
As Denis Dutton in his book, The Art Instinct, said “Some of the most agreeable human experiences involve being members of a group, including taking part in artistically creative group efforts or being a member of an appreciative audience.” These forms of art increase the social solidarity, something that is very apparent in Panama right now.