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Art For Party's Sake

By Natalia de Cuba Romero

March 14, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

It's Tuesday at midnight with no national holiday in sight, but the bodies are packed tight on San Sebastian Street. Music blares and everyone's shouting to be heard up and down the cobbled streets, people spilling out the doorways of one bar after another. Where else but Old San Juan could you get thousands of beautiful sweaty, smiling people crammed in the streets way past bedtime in the middle of a work week and call it "Art"?

Puerto Ricans are experts at playtime - few cultures in the world are as fun loving and dedicated to the arts of drinking, dining, dancing and romancing as the denizens of the Island of Enchantment. Not that we don't like the fine arts as well. It's just that in Puerto Rico, we know how to mix work and pleasure, high culture and hip-hop. In "Sights, Sounds & Tastes", a new weekly column in the Puerto Rico Herald, I'll be keeping you up to date on the latest in get-up-and-go entertainment: the victuals, voyages and visuals that have people talking.

Our first little journey is a perfect example of how Puerto Ricans blend the fine arts and the party arts into one joyous occasion. What started as a way to stimulate evening business in an Old San Juan that had been virtually abandoned by the adult crowd has become a once-a-month street festival that rocks the city until the wee hours. On Tuesday nights! By the looks of it, there is a lot of pain-reliever popping going on before work the morning after.

Audiencia de yos

Photo: Lauree Feldman


Noches de Galerias started in the mid-nineties when CODEVISA (Corporacion para el Desarrollo del Viejo San Juan) a private corporation that receives federal, state and municipal funding to promote Old San Juan, asked gallery owners in the Old City to stay open late on the first Tuesday of every month. The idea was to give working folks a chance to visit art galleries that would normally be closed by the time they get out of work. And the hope was that they would not only buy art, but stick around to have dinner and drinks around town.

And there was a little teaser added. Thanks to sponsorship by liquor companies, galleries which opened a new exhibition on a Noche de Galerias would be graced with curvy girls in short spandex dresses giving out free drinks to the crowd.

Mar rojo

Photo: Lauree Feldman


Well, all you had to say was free drinks and everyone in the whole metro area turned up, plastic cups in hand. Noches de Galerias were a huge success in terms of filling up the Old City with revelers, although not as much of a success in attracting people interested in art.

Today's Noches de Galerias have achieved more balance. No longer sponsored by liquor companies, openings at the 22 galleries and museums tend to be more serious affairs with visitors actually looking at the art and bopping from gallery to gallery before hitting the bar, if there is one. There is rarely anything stronger than beer or wine and there aren't massive quantities. The night still gets ultra-packed, but folks maintain their dignity, at least until the post-gallery pub crawl.

The event lasts from 6 pm to 9 pm. If you're driving into the Old City, you'll want to get there early. Last week the traffic was bumper to bumper by 6:30 and Ballaja's parking lot near the Plaza del Quinto Centenario was full by 7 pm. If you are going to arrive later, head straight for one of the parking lots around the waterfront and walk up or wait (and wait) for one of the free trolleys that pick up passengers at Covadonga.

Another new development this season is that the special activity format has changed. In previous years one gallery or museum would hold a special workshop or performance. This season traveling minstrels go from gallery to gallery giving a brief live performance in each.

For example, a trio strolled in strumming and singing classic boleros from Rafael Hernandez in the courtyard of Liga de Arte (Plaza del Quinto Centenario) while I was at photographer Isabel Abislaiman's opening of "develamiento de quienes" (unveiling of who). The intriguing exhibition of images and assemblages is the first solo outing for this award-winning photographer whose published work includes photos and articles from South Africa and Guadeloupe.

Develamiento de quienes

Photo: Lauree Feldman


At second-floor Galeria Carlos Irizarry (110 San Sebastian Street), New York-Puerto Rico painter Doze opened a small show of vibrant canvases that bounce from figurative to expressionist without losing a living color dynamism. Later in the evening several artists joined him for a live painting session on a wall-sized canvas. A peek out the balcony gave me an almost scary view of the swarms on San Sebastian and Plaza San Jose. Downstairs from the gallery is Candela, a lounge bar with a sexy-groovy soundtrack and gorgeous lighting that is the new home of the hipsters and one of my new favorites.

The next Noche de Galerias is on April 1 and the roving music will be jazz.Noches de Galerias seasons run February through May and September through December. For more information call 787-723-7080.

Natalia de Cuba Romero is a freelance travel, food and arts writer whose articles have been published in New York's Newsday, National Geographic Traveler, Caribbean Travel & Life and Dance magazine. She was also The San Juan Star's Nite Owl nightlife columnist for three years.

Her column, Sights, Sounds & Tastes of Puerto Rico, will appear weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald. She can be reached at

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