Innovation from upcoming generations is the fuel that keeps our society humming along. Malleability, curiosity, and reservoirs of energy are all advantages of being a young person. Importantly, when the wisdom and vision of age can be a container for youthful expression, magic happens.
On Sunday, we got the chance to experience the aforementioned combination, in a walking tour of the recently renovated “Artistic Street” in the neighborhood “Los Pepines” in the heart of Santiago.
When Abel Martínez Durán, the newest Mayor of Santiago, arrived on the scene in 2016, he entered with a mission to improve both the look and functionality of many public spaces in the city. From installing lights beneath bridges, completing years-long construction projects, to repainting the famous horse-drawn carriages that carry love-struck couples around the city, he has breathed fresh air into spaces that sorely needed it. Martinez spear-headed the 2017 project that gave local artists some of the biggest canvases of their lives---the buildings and walls of the Pepines neighborhood. Bringing in talent from across the city, within a few months the area took on a new life.
The vision of Durán had brought the streets back to life, yet 20-year-old Juan Carlos Alvarez, a recent grad of the local university, asked himself, “now what? The murals are painted, but who will bring people to see them?” With a pair of running shoes and the loudest 'outside voice' he could muster (this was before he got his mega-phone), Alvarez began bringing people on walking tours. His enthusiasm and engagement with the crowd set him apart from other tour guides.
Not only is he full of energy and passion for his city, but he's also intelligent. Just before 40 or so teenagers and their guides took to the streets (a parade in and of itself), Alvarez took the headcount for the empanadas we'd be eating at the end of the tour. A coincidence, or a strategic move to motivate his audience toward their goal?
Nowadays, this neighborhood draws in droves of people who are coming to admire the art there. Local store owners benefit from the influx of people, and those who visit feel inspired by the art that so colorfully depicts Dominican culture and life.
Along the way, we passed through the section of the neighborhood where the “soneros” set up each and every Sunday to drink and dance Cuban “son”. You could tell the amateurs from the pros by the hats they wore. We were invited to dance, and with just a little prompting, dance we did.
We even got to see a simulation of carnaval, Dominican style.
What made this tour so special was the way it combined beauty, tradition, authenticity, and novelty. It's something that generations of old and new can appreciate and share. If you're ever in the DR, it's something you can't miss! A tour for all the senses, this one will be remembered for a lifetime.
(P.S. If you want to follow Alvarez' project, go follow him on Instagram: losmuralesdesantiago)