Tamarind Institute Director Marjorie Devon is taking a group to explore the visual arts. Assistant Professor Jorge Colon, School of Architecture and Planning, is taking a group interested in seeing how architecture and public space have changed from colonialism into the 21st century.

Both are going to Cuba, thanks to efforts by Latin American & Iberian Institute Director Susan Tiano. She led a group to Cuba in 2012 with a goal to establish relationships, formal and informal, that would lead to academic trips as well as trips available to the community. That effort now bears fruit.

“UNM has had an academic license since the 1980s, but we only acquired our People-to-People license in August of last year,” Tiano said. She said that the license allows them to offer programs to the community. “We can offer exciting programs that link faculty with community groups in a particular interest area,” she said.

Continuing Education is one way to connect UNM expertise with the community. Marie McGhee, senior program manager at Continuing Education, was part of the 2012 trip. She is leading a community group in April that will look at the arts and culture. “What makes this feasible is having LAII staff accompany group leaders on the trip. It has made it easier to find people to lead a group,” Tiano said.

LAII established strong connections in Havana, including agreements with the University of Havana and Instituto Cubano de Investigación Cultural Juan Marinello. “Establishing an agreement with the University of Havana provides UNM faculty and students with the option of exploring research and academic programs for credit there. Through Juan Marinello, the possibilities are extensive – language training, dance and music,” she said, noting just a few.

The LAII has long funded Field Research Grants for students and faculty. Students can use that funding to pursue academic research related to their degree in Cuba. “We have funded projects there before, but now we can link them with faculty and other students,” Tiano said.

Acquiring a People-to-People license is not an easy process, nor are many issued. “The license is issued for one year only. Institutions must reapply annually. If we are successful in facilitating meaningful interactions between the Cuban and New Mexico communities, then we believe our license will be reissued,” said Vickie Nelson, LAII associate director.

Trips taken on a People to People license have an intensely structured itinerary. “They engage in a week of programming during which all time is accounted for with meaningful interactions with the community,” Nelson said.

Colon’s group is an academic group traveling on UNM’s general institutional license. The group of seven undergraduate and graduate students represents design disciplines and Latin American Studies students. They go to Havana over spring break. All applicants had to submit statements and writing samples to Colon.

“We are looking at history and politics and their impact on the built environment. We are exploring the four time periods – colonialism, independence, revolution and the 21st century.  The students will present a final research paper, using photographs, mapping and other visual documentation,” he said.

“I am grateful to Vickie Nelson and the LAII for handling all the logistics,” he said.

Devon’s group, which is focusing on the visual arts, is going April 26 to May 3. Her group consists of community members – artists, printers, gallery people, art collectors and supporters. This is Devon’s fourth trip to the island nation. “I am excited to go back, see old friends and new things,” she said.

Devon’s group will visit artists’ studios. “The creative environment there is amazing, both in the visual and performing arts,” she said. They also plan to visit artists’ communities. “They are involved in transforming neighborhoods through sculptures, murals and tile walls. We will also visit arts and crafts markets,” she said.

Devon said that they will be in Havana on May Day. “It will be interesting to see the rally and parade on Revolution Square,” she said.

Other faculty from business and biology, occupational therapy and honors, have also expressed interest, Tiano said. “We are enthusiastic about organizing programs with New Mexico State University and the University of Texas-El Paso and others under our People-to-People license,” Tiano said. 

View slideshow. Cuba photos from 2012