The late 1990s saw somewhat loosened travel restrictions on Americans visiting Cuba, and many Bay Areans took advantage, coming back with colorful (if sometimes distressing) stories and deep tans. But even though the Bush administration has discontinued the "People-to-People" cultural exchange program that made such trips possible, the Berkeley Public Library hopes to keep the spirit of those experiences alive over the next two months with Cuba Viva!, a free display of vibrant large-format prints taken on recent trips to the island by local photographer Thea Bellos. Focusing on "the tremendous creativity, vitality, and resourcefulness of the Cuban people, who are living under very challenging conditions," Bellos' work includes vivid, crisp, sunblasted images capturing the rhythms of daily life -- lively street musicians, aging colonial architecture with bright new coats of paint, and the warm, well-worn faces of white-haired men smoking cigars.
It's "Cuban society seen through the lens of time, decay, and beauty," says the artist, whose trips have included experiences as varied as attending a Kwanzaa celebration in a Havana suburb, becoming aware of government moles in every neighborhood, and seeing Cuban citizens banned from tourist hotels. But despite the "multiple levels of propaganda" and restrictive structure of the old-guard communist government, "the abundance of artists, musicians, poets, and intellectuals created an aliveness that is often missing in the cities and towns of the US."
Bellos -- whose other recent shows have included an exhibition at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center related to art and healing, inspired by her own bout with breast cancer -- says the photos that comprise the show reflect "questions [that] were ignited by this journey and continue to linger since my return."
Bellos' prints are part of a series of Cuba-related events at the library that also will include a performance of Afro-Cuban music by the Wayne Wallace Quintet on Friday, October 15 (8 p.m. in the Central Reading Room), and a discussion with Bellos herself on Saturday, October 16 (2 p.m. in the Community Room), about her extensive travels in the country, the repeal of the People-to-People program, and what the future holds for Cuban-American relations. Both events are free. The Berkeley Central Public Library is located at 2090 Kittredge Street. For more information, visit
BerkeleyPublicLibrary.org/#monthly_events or call 510-981-6100. -- Rob Blackwelder
Reggae Road Trip
This year's Dreadstock is in Vallejo, and it's an extended family affair -- unrelated performers share last names, and the lineup reflects the spectrum of Caribbean and reggae music in a way that only proves the interrelation of it all. Featured artists include legendary radio DJ, artist, producer, TV host, and Clash compadre Mikey Dread (above), Sammy "Road Block" Dread, Pablo Moses (creator of the 1975 smash "I Man a Grasshopper"), and Tony Moses of KPOO and KPFA. Also on the docket are Prezident Brown, Groundation, Dubwise, Resination, and many more. Info: Dreadstock.com -- Stefanie Kalem
Whimsicality and wonder are hard work. Just ask the artists on display in Once Upon a Time, an exhibit of art by children's book illustrators at the Museum of Children's Art (MOCHA) in Oakland. But as in anything related to childhood, the nostalgia and "magic" of the early years sweep away everything but a collection of dinosaurs, fairy princesses, friendly space aliens, and enchanted gardens. The graphic artists in the show (which opens Monday and runs to the end of the year) each contribute two pieces: an original book illo, plus something they made as a child. Go to MOCHA.org for more details. -- Kelly Vance
Hey, kid! Getcher finger outta that cement and get your significant mother to ferry you to Main Street in downtown Martinez. During the Festa Italia, professional and amateur artists will be creating chalk art on the sidewalk of the plaza area between Starbucks and the Bank of America. Interested parties can hand over $10 and chalk it up on a two-by-two-foot-square. Other activities include food, live entertainment, and a wishing fountain where your coins go toward visual arts education. FestaItaliaMartinez.com -- Stefanie Kalem
Culture Spy - April 20, 9:52 AM
Culture Spy - April 13, 12:18 PM