There are times and places in which forces of change produce a wave of creativity that births an explosion of writing, art and performance. In Cuenca, Ecuador, such a wave is gaining momentum as talented, educated and experienced people are drawn here. Most are not coming focused on artistic expression. We’ve come because our money goes farther, we don’t have to shovel snow, and we’ve fallen in love with blue domes and red tiled roofs. With more time and less worry, we can write the stories and paint the canvases we’ve harbored in the back of our minds for years. Then there are those here who are acknowledged professionals or gifted amateurs gaining artistic ground. The result is a concentration of talent, expertise and resources that anyone can tap into who wants to participate.
I felt this same flow of creativity in San Francisco during the ’90’s, though the creative energy that swept through San Francisco in the 50’s and 60’s has waned, while here in Cuenca, the energy is building. Street performances, mural paintings, poetry slams – whatever your interest, you could find people to share ideas and support. Here in Cuenca, writers – typically solitary creatures – can be social with peers at WOW (Writing Our World) for industry tips and talk of creative process, at CWC (Cuenca Writers Collective) for supportive critique and local publishing resources, or read at Spoken Word. The first Cuenca International Writers Conference coming up March 15-17 at Hotel Zahir 360 is a great opportunity for everyone from wannabes to established writers to mingle with peers and be inspired by the possibilities. (See CuencaWritersConference.com.)
The art scene in Cuenca got a great boost in 2015 with a highly successful, first Cuenca Art Walk organized by the Four Rivers Center for the Creative Arts that gave us insight into the variety of artistic talent here. Theatre arts in Cuenca range from Azuay Community Theatre productions to murder mystery dinners and performances at venues such as Fishbon del Sur. And music – here is something for everyone: excellent (free) symphonies, the Jazz Society Cafe, and a variety of indigenous forms that make your toes tap and your fingers snap. This city’s already rich culture encourages participation by the “extranjeros” who are privileged to live here.
Creative output includes many responses to a world in turmoil. We can choose to engage the issues or create distractions that offer a different perspective. In New York in the 1940’s and San Francisco in the 50’s The Beats, a group of authors whose literature explored and influenced American culture in the post-World War II era, gained notoriety and influence. Poets like Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti questioned mainstream politics and culture. Jack Kerouac and his compatriots rejected materialism, militarism, consumerism, and the conformity of the 1950s, in favor of individual freedom and spontaneity.
The Inklings, on the other hand, were an informal literary group associated with Oxford University in England in the years leading up to and beyond World War II, members of which produced classic works of fantasy that became blockbuster movies. J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis are icons of literature whose stories not only stimulate the imagination but invite reassessment of values.
Before the Inklings, there was The Algonquin Round Table that came about in the surge of hopefulness following the first World War. This was a group of about 30 New York City artistic movers and shakers who met once at the Algonquin Hotel to roast a critic and had so much fun they continued meeting for the next eight years. Participants were writers, painters, publicists, critics, poets, musicians, publishers, and journalists. We still quote Dorothy Parker, laugh at Harpo Marx and read Edna Ferber. The resulting collaborations and synergy produced thoughtful and innovative journalism, theatre, art, literature and music.
These folks were simply doing their thing – following their individual artistic calling – in a place where the confluence of creative energies responded to the dramatic changes of the times. Oxford. New York. San Francisco. Cuenca. With the internet, we can never completely escape the political, social, economic, and ecological challenges facing us globally even as we enjoy the advantages of this lovely city. Whether our particular art engages the issues, envisions better alternatives, or simply offers the relief of distraction, we can create in a place where resources and inspiration are abundant. What an exciting time and extraordinary place. Our beautiful rivers with their tumbling waters, draping willows and groves of eucalyptus are visual and energetic metaphors that invite us to dive into the flow of our own creativity. Will you join us?
Click here to register for the 2016 Cuenca International Writers Conference.
Barbara Snow is one of the presenters at the Cuenca International Writers Conference to be held on March 12 through 18 at the Zahir 360 Hotel. A poet, writer, and columnist, Barbara will be leading a workshop on poetry (The Essence of Experience) and co-leading another on writing spiritual books.