Hi, every­body. I’m going to talk about a bit of my expe­ri­ence with art and tech­nol­o­gy in Puerto Rico, which is where I’m from.

Puerto Rico is a small island in the Caribbean, and most of the time when peo­ple think of Puerto Rico, they think about beach­es, drink­ing, drink­ing on beach­es, and Johnny Depp mak­ing a fool of him­self recent­ly. But there’s more to it than that. Puerto Rico has been devel­op­ing an inter­est­ing art and tech­nol­o­gy com­mu­ni­ty for the past few years, and it would not have hap­pened at all if it weren’t for two peo­ple, Carola Cintrón Moscoso and Alejandro Quinteros.

They’re pro­fes­sors at the University of Puerto Rico, and the school of fine arts there. With them, peo­ple can learn about elec­tron­ics instal­la­tions, sound art, video pro­jec­tion, and inter­ac­tiv­i­ty. But there was one thing lack­ing through­out this whole pro­gram. I learned a lot there, but there was no com­mu­ni­ty around it. So what do you do when there’s no com­mu­ni­ty? You make it yourself. 

So I set out to cre­ate a space for peo­ple to learn about tech­nol­o­gy, [and] research it for cre­ative pur­pos­es out­side of acad­e­mia. We would meet every week. The prob­lem is that nobody went. So to gar­ner inter­est, we gave free work­shops, which attract­ed some peo­ple but they still would­n’t meet with us reg­u­lar­ly. They would go one time, do the work­shop and sort of not know what to do there, and even though we invit­ed them they would­n’t go back.

This is one of our free Unity game devel­op­ment work­shops. It was three days, and every day there was half the peo­ple of the day before. So if we start with eight peo­ple, there was only like two peo­ple or maybe even nobody.

That was sort of heart­break­ing, because we want­ed to build the com­mu­ni­ty and it was not work­ing. But one good thing hap­pened dur­ing this work­shop specif­i­cal­ly, you can see that guy right there, that’s Noel. He’s a game devel­op­er who was diag­nosed with autism, and he decid­ed to come join us an hang out with us. So even if there is a sit­u­a­tion like, for me exam­ple, I had nev­er dealt with any­body who’d been diag­nosed with autism and the details that go into that, it does­n’t mat­ter. If you want to build a com­mu­ni­ty you still have to help each oth­er and nour­ish that.

The group was grow­ing a lit­tle bit, but it was still very small and [with] very lit­tle rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women. There’s only one in that image. So we decid­ed to test a the­o­ry, which is that peo­ple don’t val­ue free things. So we decid­ed to charge $25 for a Processing work­shop, and we got a full house.

This is our Processing work­shop, total­ly full, and peo­ple val­ued this. They paid atten­tion, it was four days, and we kept every­body through­out the whole time. So it was like sev­en­teen peo­ple, going from like four peo­ple on a reg­u­lar basis, to four weeks full of peo­ple. But the thing is that we invit­ed them to return again to our week­ly meet­ings and they still did­n’t. So there’s still some­thing there that we haven’t solved.

Here you can see the stu­dents at an after-school pro­gram that I did. They learned about Arduino, Processing, Scratch, 3D mod­el­ing, print­ing, and even Pure Data for elec­tron­ic music. The prob­lem here is that there’s no girls. This is some­thing that’s very com­mon in Latin and Caribbean cul­ture. Tech is for boys, and if a girl is inter­est­ed (which she was; I expe­ri­enced this), there was one girl that was inter­est­ed, but she was total­ly repelled from the boys’ group. I tried to stop that as direct­ly as I could, but it’s very ingrained in the cul­ture, and it was dif­fi­cult. We did get one par­tic­i­pant, but she would go spo­rad­i­cal­ly and she was still intim­i­dat­ed. That’s some­thing that we real­ly need to work on.

There’s anoth­er place that I’m inter­est­ed in, and that’s Cuba. I recent­ly had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to go to Cuba to par­tic­i­pate in a video art fes­ti­val. I’m not a video artist, but they’re inter­est­ed in expand­ing their def­i­n­i­tion of what art and tech­nol­o­gy is, so it’s very inter­est­ing because video art is sort of the it thing right now. It’s kind of mind-blowing like, Oh, there’s art and tech­nol­o­gy that’s not video art.” It’s very inter­est­ing com­ing from a place like this where video art’s sort of passed on to greater pas­tures, and oth­er things are hap­pen­ing. This is a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to estab­lish myself in this art and tech field, which is grow­ing in Cuba.

Cuba is amaz­ing. They have a hack­er cul­ture. Due to the rela­tion­ship that they had with the US, the peo­ple had to solve prob­lems. This is a car that this guy hacked him­self. He turned this car into a diesel engine and installed motor­ized win­dows in it.

People cre­ate their own anten­nas, and they turn bikes into taxis.

During this fes­ti­val, I gave an intro to [the] ter­mi­nal and Python, just to show they that with the lit­tle bit of Internet con­nec­tion that they have, they can still con­nect to data sources and cre­ate appli­ca­tions with it, even with a 56k connection.

With recent devel­op­ments in the rela­tion­ship between Cuba and the US, peo­ple are excit­ed to enter a new phase, espe­cial­ly with the Internet. This was just the first step, and I’m excit­ed to go back and strength­en the ties between the art and tech com­mu­ni­ties in the Caribbean and the US

That being said, let’s go to Puerto Rico. I pro­pose to have a fes­ti­val or a con­fer­ence in Puerto Rico, espe­cial­ly dur­ing the cold months where nobody wants to be over here. It’s a per­fect time to do it. I can’t do it alone, and I need your help. So let’s make it hap­pen. Thanks. I’ll buy you a drink.

Further Reference

Overview page at the Studio for Creative Inquiry’s web site.