‘Cuba in the Springs’ opens at Eldorado Springs Art Center

Spence Havlick, president of the Boulder-Cuba Sister City Organization, enjoys an international artists reception for "Cuba in the Springs" at

Spence Havlick, president of the Boulder-Cuba Sister City Organization, enjoys an international artists reception for “Cuba in the Springs” at the Eldorado Springs Art Center. (Kira Vos / Daily Camera)

International flair comes to new arts facility

June 22 (Daily Camera)  Last Friday evening in Eldorado Springs, the June air hung thicker than a typical Colorado summer night, with a bluebird sky batting off a looming rainstorm. Up a beaten dirt path, at 8 Chesebro Way, a modern, industrial-style, newly renovated art center sprinkled with sculpture rests beneath a steep canyon landscape just steps away from a babbling South Boulder Creek.

The Eldorado Springs Art Center recently came to its newfound glory, as the space was previously home to a dilapidated Volvo repair shop with no running water, no central heat and with steel cables holding the crumbling structure together. Several flatbeds of spare parts and 25 rusted-out Volvos once sat in what is now an open-air courtyard featuring a sculpture garden, assorted boulders and a family-style table.

On Friday, June 15, the center kicked off its current exhibit, “Cuba in the Springs,” a collaboration with the Boulder-Cuba Sister City Organization. The exhibit features the art of four Cuban artists and one Denver artist’s digital art photographs of old Havana. The exhibit runs through July 25. Gallery hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. The Sculpture Garden is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

A melting pot of minds

Artist Giuseppe Palumbo, who’s owned the space for more than 20 years, got the permit to renovate last year after two decades of trying. Through zoning and use issues, he “wore them down,” Palumbo said in the second-floor studio Friday night. The studio overlooked the courtyard, a breeze carrying the smooth vocals, deep bass lines and soulful rhythmic woodwind odes of Boulder band Let the Beat Speak through the heavy air.

A gallery at Eldorado Springs Art Center during "Cuba in the Springs."
A gallery at Eldorado Springs Art Center during “Cuba in the Springs.” (Dona Laurita Photography / Courtesy photo)

“I’ve been arguing with them for 20 years,” said Palumbo, who’s almost 60. “I wasn’t going to spend my next 20 years fighting. I said, ‘This is it, guys.'”

What Palumbo has cultivated is something Boulder County somewhat lacks. The artists, curators, musicians and guests involved describe it as a collaboration of world cultures. A melting pot of minds, a culmination of international ideas, a serene escape from chaotic existence.

Palumbo said Eldorado Springs Art Center sees a heavy draw of international visitors.

“We’re a little bit under the radar and we don’t have a lot of signage,” said Palumbo. “What I’ve found, it’s really interesting, that often it’s people from out of the area, international, who have the ability to be curious. Maybe it’s the culture or their nature of the traveling, but that they want to see what’s behind the wall and they come in and investigate. I’ve had Boulder people who say they’ve lived here for 40 years and didn’t know what was going on up here.”

It’s a diamond in the brush. Yet it’s less than 10 miles from the center of Boulder.

“What’s been really cool is all the collaborations that happen here,” said Palumbo. “I’m a full-time artist myself, and I know how difficult and challenging it can be. I’ve been fortunate to be able to help other people and it’s very rewarding. Boulder, I think, really needs an alternative art venue, and we end up having people from all over the world end up here. It’s intentional but it also happens organically and it’s really cool.”

‘Where is humanity going?’

Dona Laurita, a resident artist at Eldorado Springs Art Center who also has her own gallery in Louisville, teamed up with curator Ana Weir, also a Boulder gallery owner who was involved with the Boulder-Cuba Sister City Organization for years and has worked with international artists for decades, to bring “Cuba in the Springs” to Boulder County.

“It’s so wonderful to bring international quality work here,” said Laurita, an artist whose works focus on immigration, refugees and kids with cancer.

The exhibit, which showcases four Cuban artists — Wilder Machado Duran, Edwardo Gonzalez Exposito, Jose Hernandez and Jorge Vinent — and Denver painter and printmaker Tony Ortega, with digital photographs of his recent trip to Cuba.

Hernandez, or “Kilo,” is a very well-known Cuban artist, Weir said, and his pieces decorate coffee mugs, canvas bags and umbrellas. Duran’s pieces explore human refuse and how we can survive among the a world littered with garbage, she said. Exposito paints faces that peek into humankind’s obsession with food, greed and time, Weir explained. And Vincent, a contemporary artist, camouflages social issues in futuristic pieces.

“Where is humanity going?” Weir said, of Vincent’s work and expression as an artist. “He puts it in a way that makes you understand and bring your curiosity to the present. It makes you ask yourself questions.”

Weir added: “I meet all of these artists, they’re all prize winners … I really like the ensemble we’ve put together, it really has a different energy to it.”

Photos look like paintings

Ortega, who teaches at Regis University in Denver, has been on sabbatical for nearly a year. He’ll be back at the university in late summer, but the painter and photographer said that right when he went on his research and study stint, he and his wife immediately wanted to go to Cuba, since Barack Obama helped restore U.S. relations with Cuba in 2015. Ortega said he was in Cuba in 2003 with an organized tour, and he had been eager to take his wife since.

“She was a little ambivalent at first, but still decided to go,” said Ortega. “We based ourselves in old Havana and went to art galleries, printmaking studios, museums, nightclubs and restaurants. We didn’t have any real definite plans, we just immersed ourselves into the culture.”

With his iPad in hand, he captured 500-year-old buildings, vintage American cars from the ’40s and ’50s (a significant form of transportation for the island, stemming from the U.S. embargo in 1962), Cuban culture and traditions. Ortega said a small grant from Regis allowed him to take digital photo classes in Snowmass, and through filters and apps he has manipulated the captivating photographs to soften the edges, bracket the lighting and brush them with sepia hues. The look accentuates the vintage and lively life in old Havana through photos that, at first glance look like paintings.

“It’s a very visually stimulating place,” said Ortega, who has also worked with the Boulder Sister City Organization in the past. “Culturally it’s very active with the music and the arts and I was able to capture daily life through my art.”

Can’t bring a Cuban party down

Laurita’s various silhouettes dominate a wall in her upstairs studio at Eldorado Springs Art Center that explores immigration through photography and interviews. She said that her latest project is another way to bring international culture to the mountain town gallery.

“It’s a concept of creating cross-pollination of artists,” said Laurita. “And it’s all culminating into this one beautiful evening of art and culture.”

Like Cuba, a country that has long celebrated multicultural influences that draw from African to European and indigenous culture, Eldorado Springs Art Center shares in its diversity. That Friday night in June, featuring patrons (totalling around 100) sitting on rocks, boulders and benches, sipping on cocktails and enjoying food from Bandar Syrian and Mediterranean food truck, was capped off by music from Havana’s authentic roots band Pellejo Seco, now residing in the San Francisco Bay Area, with its blend of cumbia, hip hop, bossa nova and jazz.

The drizzle began to roll in, but a bit of moisture can’t bring a Cuban party down. As Palumbu said in an email, “In true Cuban style, the party didn’t end until they got on the plane Sunday night.”

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