Well my children, the Grand Fete is once more upon us. The event that all artist and artisans wait a whole year for is only one day away. Obviously I am speaking of the Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian 2008 which are scheduled to start this Thursday January 17 until Sunday January 20. The excitement and madness of this event are about to unfurl.Even before it starts the artist and artisans have already come up against their first obstacle. I have it on good authority that they have passed around a petition to try and get the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueño to permit them to put up their tables and stalls on Wednesday, a logical move. I saw, read and signed this very petition though at the outset I had said that it was an exercise in futility. When it comes to this event the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueño is not blessed with the capacity of logic. It is a bureaucracy like all others and they do not take lightly to being presented with logical alternatives to what they view as their fair regardless of the fact that it is the artist and artisans who make this fair possible.Then there is the yearly battle between the artist / artisans and the local police, which is historical. Regardless of the fact that the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueño issues parking permits to the artist and artisans who exhibit inside el Cuartel de Ballajá these so-called permits are about as useful as toilet paper since they are not, for the most part honored by the police. The participants are at the mercy of the elements, the public and the police in trying to find parking for their vehicles which they need in order to get their wares up to the top of Old San Juan, which is no easy task. Last but not least there is the matter of art prints that many of the working artist depend on to make the bulk of their income which cannot be sold inside el Cuartel Ballají. The Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueño does not permit their sale in el Cuartel de Ballajá. Till this day I still do not understand the reasoning behind this. The public knows that they are reproductions and a cheaper alternative to purchasing an image of a higher priced work. They are recognized and sold in many fairs and galleries in the states yet their sale is prohibited inside el Cuartel de Ballajá. Go figure!Now that I have put forth the artist and artisans viewpoints I hope that all goes well for all involved. As in other years I was invited to exhibit but declined. I stopped going to this event as a participating artist several years ago due in large part to the declining economy and low sales vs. the trouble one has to go through to set-up a substantial exhibit. I expect that I will be receiving information about the fair as it progresses through the weekend. No doubt there will be much to write about.
As for the activities outside el Cuartel de Ballajá that is another story. This is the Bohemians Dream. An ongoing 4 day party! As in all such affairs prices will jump up on everything. You can expect to pay double if not triple for many edibles and drinks. Be warned too that there is no drinking outside the barricaded zone the police set-up which is usually one block south of calle San Sebastián, the corner of San Justo and Norzagaray on the eastern end and if I am not mistaking the corner of Calle del Cristo and Calle Luna at the northwest corner of the Cathedral. If you are carrying one of those portable hand held ice boxes with alcohol as you depart the fiesta you will be stopped.
Parking is largely non-existent! One would be better off parking in Santurce or Cataño and riding in on public transportation unless of course you relish the thought of being in a massive traffic jam for what may be an hour or more to enter San Juan.
Here are just a few links about several artist at the fair:
Ada Rosa Rivera
Javier Alzérreca Frambes
Oslvado de Jesus Cruz
For various other reports about Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián click HERE
Update: January 18, 2008:
I saw a report this morning on Noticentro regarding the artisans / artist of the San Sebastián Fair. A number of them have formed a protest due to the fact that they have not been permitted to set up their tables in the streets even though they were evaluated and paid the required fee’s. The protester’s claim that there are artisans and artist who have tables inside Ballajá and on the streets as well taking valuable space from them. I know this to be true from personal experience. I have seen artist who were invited to exhibit inside Ballajá ( which is by invitation ) who have also set up tables outside where they sell offset prints that Ballajá does not permit. It would seem that the greed factor is also present in this action.
On a lighter note Ricky Martin was the main attraction last night at the main stage in front of the Totem where he received an award for his work against child abuse. Ricky Martin said that he plans on returning to the Fiesta next year.
Today is day 2 of the fair and everyone awoke to a downpour that is covering the northern coastline. According to the weather forecasters it seems that this will continue over the weekend due to two systems that are meeting north of the island. I hope that they are wrong since this will definitely put a damper on the activities as well as the pockets of the participating artist and artisans.
Note: You can check out the traffic around the main arteries near San Juan by going to the Noticentro Supercam by clicking HERE.
Update: Jan. 19, 2008
Well my children, I WENT, I SAW AND I WILL WRITE, LATER. For now I will direct your attention to a comrade in arms namely El Rata @ El Ñame. He has written a most illuminating article about Las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián which is a MUST READ as far as I am concerned. Please leave comments about his article at his site. Now, in all its stark reality I present Las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián ALA RATA! Click here
Update: Jan. 20,2008
As I stated before I had gone to the Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián to take in the activities first hand. I first examined the scene along Calle San Sebastián as I went to El Cuartel de Ballajá. It was obvious that a number of artist did not attend this years street fair. Many artist who participated in this fair in previous years were absent. What the actual cause of this was not clear and since they were not around I had no way of answering this question. No doubt the economy and bureaucracy had something to do with it. This question could have easily been answered by a friend of mine who attend this fair yearly but he too was unavailable. I also noticed right away that there were many signs hanging from balconies protesting the 99 Resolution against same sex unions. There was a report about this protest ( in El Nuevo Dia
) where Rafael Ruiz from the committee No A LA 99 stated that there were at least 30 neighbors in San Juan who had shown their support by hanging these signs from their balconies. Many of the signs read: “Seamos libres para amar” ( Lets be free to Love ). Public hearings are scheduled for this coming Friday regarding this resolution at la Comisión cameral de lo Jurídico y Seguridad Pública which will continue the following week.As I continued along Calle San Sebastián I could hear a radio commentator talking to people about some articles that were published by El Nuevo Dia which have come under fire by some groups. I have been noticing that Elver Dugo Taims at http://myweb.ecomplanet.com/
has been writing about this issue so I will simply direct the reader to his site.As has always been the case, many of the food and drink merchants found at the fair were over-pricing their food and drinks. I noted some of the prices and was shocked that the public would pay these exorbitant amounts. Pinchos were selling from $4.50 to $5.00 ea., bacalaitos went for $3.00, sodas and water went for $2.00 ea. Beers started at $2.00 and up depending on the brand and mixed drinks were higher yet. For comparisons sake you can usually get a pinchos for $1.00-$1.50, bacalaitos around $1.00, sodas go from $.80 – $1.00 and beer is about $1.00 a can depending on where you buy it. Oddly the Tripleta ( a favorite on the island ) was selling at its usual price of $5.00. I didn’t bother checking on the plate dishes such as piononos and fried chicken as I knew these would be much higher. Let us not forget the infamous IVU. Many of the food vendors made a point of showing their prices with the IVU but like many people commented they wondered how much if any of it would make its way to the government coffers!
When I got to el Cuartel de Ballajá I noticed that there were not as many people though this would change as the day went on. Many of the first complaints I heard from the artist/artisans was that bathrooms were not made available to them as in previous years, neither was water available for their use which some use for their work and to drink. This was an outrage as the artist/artisans were forced to go outside to the portable units. In past years Ballajá had permitted the artist/artisans to use their restrooms on the first floor.
Another thing that I noticed right away was that the artisans ( not the artist ) had certificates that they had to display in front of their tables that were issued by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture along with ID that the artisans had to wear. I will admit that the Institute did provide the tables and table cloths for the artisans, which raised the question as to why? All of this was obviously planned well in advance of the event as each certificate had the artisans name and category of work printed on it and the ID’s had photos of the artisans.
Sales were dismal to say the least. There were a few who did manage to rack-up on sales but these were few and for the most part most of the participating artist/artisans complained that sales were not good. Some sales did pick up later but for the most part they were nothing like what they were in years past. A number of artist were missing and I strongly suspect that like me they did not think the effort and expenditure was worth it. Such a fair requires a substantial cash layout for frames, materials, racks etc., etc., not to mention the physical and mental stress of such an event. You have to bear in mind that many of the participants are coming from all parts of the island and many have to make arrangements to stay in San Juan or the neighboring communities in order to cut down on nightly traveling.
Another change that I noticed was that the south sidewalk of Ballajá was allocated to artisans under tents. This was new as this area was always set aside for a long row of portable sanitary units. No doubt this was done to accommodate the ever increasing amount of artisans.
As is always the case many government officials and celebrities made their way to the fair. Santini made an appearance with a number of musicians and one or two senators and representatives were around though I only saw two.
There were many entertainers at the main stage in front of the Totem with Ricky Martin being the main attraction the night before to kick off the event.
Up to the time I was there no confrontations with the police were reported as in previous years where there had been such confrontations. There were no over-zealous totem climbers this year.
The streets themselves were a continuing, spontaneous eruption of music dancing and merriment.
The last thing that I witnessed was the transportation issue. The Tren Urbano had arranged to sell tickets for the 4 day event for $5.00 and bus service was provided from Sagrado Corazon straight to the Fiestas and back. However I did notice that there was a cut-back in the usual bus transportation to other parts. If you had to go to other parts such as Santurce, Carolina and other regions you were basically stuck. I know because I had to make my way back to Bayamon before 5 p.m. and it didn’t happen. I ended up staying in San Juan at a friends apartment when I saw I would not get out of San Juan. It was odd that only the bus service for the Tren Urbano was the only real public transportation working with any frequency and they had many buses coming and going every few minutes. I wonder what was the reason for this lack of service to other regions. Another individual who was also waiting for a bus pointed out the fact that the majority of the passengers on these special service buses were white and no doubt from the upscale Guaynabo urbanization that are home for the many lawyers, doctors, architects, engineers and other professionals. I must admit that I had to agree with this observation.
Well, there is one more day of festivities before it all ends for another year. I will try to return and check out the closing events.
Update: Jan.21, 2008
Due to rain I was unable to get out of my Hobbit hole on the island but I got news of the end of the fair. It would seem that the people in charge of cleaning at Ballajá were more interested in the Tito Trinidad fight that was scheduled to be aired than in their jobs the result being that there was a smell that permeated the air in Ballajá of urine and excrement. Anyone that needed to use the bathrooms had to go out to the portable sanitary units that were no better off.
From the news that I got the sales were dismal as I had said earlier. I have no doubt that many artist will think twice before returning to this event next year. I doubt that many of the artist even made back what they spent in the usual expenses for this event.
The governor made an appearance at Ballajá with his wife about mid afternoon though in all frankness there is not much to write about here.
Fortunately there were no violent outbreaks as in other years, at least not at the fiestas.
All said the fair was not a success for the artist/artisans as in the days of old. Many complained of the lack of sales and the lack of sanitary services I had mentioned earlier.
Well las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián 2008 is now history for better or worse. If the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueño plans on continuing this fair they are going to have to make a number of improvements regarding the way they treat the islands talent. They will have to bear in mind if it were not for the artist/artisans there would be no fair! As El Rata @ El Ñame put it, ” San Sebastián would be rolling over in his grave ” knowing what this fair has become in his name sake.
As for all the Bohemians and Bohemians at heart the videos have finally begun showing up at Youtube so here are the first few:
Ricky Martin – Fiestas Calle San Sebastian (01/17/08) – PR
Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian, Jueves 17, 2008
Fiestas Calle San Sebastian 2008
Tags: artist and artisans, Comisión cameral de lo Jurídico y Seguridad Pública, committee No A LA 99, Elver Dugo Taims, Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián, Guaynabo, IVU, Noticentro, Protesters, Rafael Ruiz, Ricky Martin, San Juan, Santini, Tren Urbano, Videos of Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián