Posts tagged with "Puerto Rico":

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Francisco Javier Rodríguez-Suárez named new director of University of Illinois's School of Architecture

It’s the end of the college semester and things are shaking up at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). After almost three years without a permanent director, and an interim one from the Department of English, the university’s College of Fine and Applied Arts announced that Francisco Javier Rodríguez-Suárez as the new official head of the School of Architecture. Set to take over in January of 2020, Rodríguez-Suárez will enter his post after coming off a long teaching stint at the University of Puerto Rico, where he’s served as a Distinguished Professor of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture since 2016. The architect, editor, speaker, and educator has an extensive background in both designing and teaching, having served as the school’s dean from 2007 to 2016 while building out his practice, rsvp architects, in San Juan.  Rodríguez-Suárez himself is a graduate of Georgia Tech and Harvard GSD, which he attended after studying a year at the Université de Paris. He’s held teaching positions at a wide range of universities including the University of Seville and the Universidad de Cantabria (both in Spain) as well as the Universidad de Los Andes in Columbia, and his alma mater, Harvard. In 2010, he was invited to explore the history of architecture and pedagogy as a visiting scholar at the American Academy in Rome. In a press release, Kevin Hamilton, dean of the UIUC College of Fine and Applied Arts, said it was Rodríguez-Suárez’s international experience and broad connections that stood out to the hiring committee the most. “In Francisco, we also have someone who brings deep knowledge and appreciation for our School of Architecture’s distinctive and historic record of accomplishment. Such as a combination of global and local perspectives will serve us well not only in architecture but across the college, helping us to deeper service to the state, the region, and beyond.” AN spoke with Rodríguez-Suárez in September when his third-year students in Puerto Rico drew attention for creating counter-proposals to New York’s planned Hurricane Maria memorial. The project was born from a class discussion on whether it was appropriate for such a memorial to be erected in the city, especially so soon after the hurricane. Rodríguez-Suárez told AN that the competition studio was arranged to help students learn the importance of architectural competitions and how to think critically and present strategic ideas.  While it’s unclear yet if and what classes Rodríguez-Suárez will teach in Illinois, he aims to encourage his students to take risks.  “There are kids all over the world studying to be architects, and what I’m saying is that we’re all inhabiting the same world, the same space, and there’s no reason why they couldn’t be the best in that group,” he told The Daily Illini. “And I will provide the confidence and the space and facilitate a platform for that to take place.” The change in directorship comes as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is building a new design center by Bohlin Cywinski-Jackson. 
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Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz on why Puerto Rico needs the help of more architects

Less than two years after Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, the politics behind its recovery and rebuilding efforts have come to the forefront of national news again and again. In recent weeks, two FEMA officials were indicted and arrested for taking bribes, committing fraud, and using federal funds for personal gain.  It’s a massive relief, but one that wasn't too surprising to Puerto Ricans who knew the money set aside for post-hurricane recuperation was being mismanaged by the federal government. One Puerto Rican, an internationally-renowned architect who served as a liaison between the private sector and FEMA for the past two years, has been very vocal about this.  “I’ve been trying to explain that Puerto Rico has been unfairly cast out as the most corrupt place in the U.S,” said Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz, founder of the San Juan- and Miami-based studio Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón. “And most of the attacks have been labeled towards local people. But this news is a silver lining and basically what I’ve been saying for the last year.” Álvarez-Díaz told AN that only a sliver of the $92 billion promised by President Trump last year has been managed locally. “Some of the people in FEMA were forcing local people to hire companies from the mainland that were not necessarily the right fit for what we are trying to do in our rebuilding," he said. "If you don’t use them they said, they would not refund the investment.”  Now that the news is out that ex-FEMA deputy regional administrator Ahsha Tribble had allegedly taken bribes from the Oklahoma City-based energy company contracted to restore the island’s power grid, it’s not crazy to think that other projects there have been subject to corruption as well. Álvarez-Díaz, who has been busy promoting the resiliency of the Puerto Rican people and making the case for more help, said the key to stopping this is three-fold: to get more locally-based architects and companies involved in the rebuilding process “to ensure it’s done in a very localized manner,” encouraging mainland architects to help out, and lastly, educating the next generation of Puerto Rican architects.  “We don’t have enough people on this island to do the work that needs to get done,” he said. “In Puerto Rico, there are less than 600 licensed architects out of 3.2 million people, but there are 15,000 licensed engineers. We need more help.”  Álvarez-Díaz’s firm practices in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, New York, and Florida. As the founder and co-chair of the local chapter of the Urban Land Institute (ULI), and a board member of both Invest Puerto Rico and the ENLANCE Project Corporation of the Caño Martín Peña, two governor-appointed positions, he’s keenly aware of the island’s poor reputation and is constantly working to change it. His studio recently completed what’s been touted as the most resilient structure in Puerto Rico. Completed this summer, Renaissance Square is a $35.5 million mixed-income affordable housing project located in San Juan’s Gold Mile financial district. Though construction began years ago and was only 80 percent done when Maria hit, not a single window was broken. It was built through a public-private partnership between the Department of Housing, developer McCormack Baron Salazar, Citi Community Development, and Hunt Capital Partners. Of its 140 units, 60 percent were reserved for low-income families and there’s currently a 1,500-person waiting list to get a space. The demand is high. “Materials can be scarce here on the island and because there’s so much construction, the perception of lack creates a false sense of inflation, so people just want to use the cheapest materials instead of the best ones,” said Álvarez-Díaz. “We aim to convince the next group of developers that doing sustainable housing projects like this is actually profitable.”  Creating awareness is Álvarez-Díaz’s main mission. That’s why he’s also urging the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to use its influence to spread the knowledge that Puerto Rico is looking for outside assistance. He wants a chunk of next year’s AIA convention to be dedicated to educating architects on working in disaster zones, helping them connect with companies or organizations that need help, or advocating on behalf of equitable recovery efforts. “The AIA traditionally tends to be inside out instead of outside in,” he said. “Many architects aren’t invited to the table where big government decisions are being made and therefore are forced to talk among themselves about how to make things better. Local engineers are very successful in putting the word out there that Puerto Rico needs a lot of licensed engineers, experienced contractors, and developers. The more engineers we bring in and the less the amount of architects we attract, the more likely it is that we will miss an opportunity to create a holistic architectural vision for Puerto Rico.” The AIA already has an initiative set in place like this, its formal Disaster Assistance Program. But the goal of the program, which has certified architects for 47 years, isn’t for professionals to get more paid work, said an AIA spokesperson. Instead, it’s to provide technical expertise on development, planning, and policy, coordinate with local agencies, advocate for Good Samaritan legislation, and train for and share lessons on post-disaster building safety assessments—all things Álvarez-Díaz sees as good, but still not enough.  “We need to make sure this isn’t just about disaster recovery,” he said. “That’s the first step out of a three-step process. Once that’s done, we have to plan a whole island for the next 100 years. It’s not every day you can start from absolute scratch and benefit the next four generations of Puerto Ricans. I see the island as a kind of guinea pig for post-disaster development. Other places could one day learn from our successes and failures.” 
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Puerto Rican architecture students design counter-proposals to Hurricane Maria memorial

Architecture students in Puerto Rico have responded with a counter-proposal to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent request for architects to submit ideas for a Hurricane Maria memorial in New York. Francisco J. Rodríguez-Suarez, architect, professor, and former dean of the University of Puerto Rico School of Architecture (UPR-RP), posted a series of photomontages by his third-year students on Twitter (@paco-rsvp) last week—a competition project inspired by a class discussion during the first week of the semester. Some 16 pieces were made public on his feed, each depicting American and Puerto Rican symbols overlayed with contradictory images. One of the most scroll-stopping images features a group of construction workers raising an electric poll atop a pile of rubble. It mimics the famous photograph taken in 1945 of six Marines raising the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima. Rodríguez-Suarez told David Begnaud, CBS This Morning's lead national correspondent, that his students talked about the possibility of participating in Cuomo’s request for proposals, but ultimately decided to pursue making the anti-memorial imagery instead. They “unanimously felt the wounds had not healed enough and also questioned the appropriateness of the politics behind a memorial in New York,” Rodríguez-Saurez said in a quote on Begnaud’s Twitter. The journalist called the students' ideas "protest work" and an "academic critique" of Cuomo's RFP. In an email, Rodríguez-Suarez explained to AN that the project was part of a larger competition studio where emerging designers learn how to present strategy and develop critical thinking skills. They typically engage in four or five competitions per semester, he said, and the Hurricane Maria memorial was the first one they talked about doing. After debating the pros and cons, the students didn't submit work on an official submission but rather ended up experimenting with the photomontages as a set of counter-proposals. "Pedagogically, [the class] highlights the importance of architectural competitions as a means to provide society with better quality buildings and spaces," said Rodríguez-Suarez, "especially in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, where they are not the norm." It’s unclear yet whether Cuomo's memorial competition is gaining traction among professional architects or artists already, but given the support of the many New York-based Puerto Ricans who make up the 10-person commission to get it built, it seems the project will move forward despite criticism—even if it comes from the Puerto Rican government itself.  Regardless of the final chosen design, the UPR-RP students believe it's too soon for a memorial and that the American government doesn't understand their plight. "How does it occur to someone to make a memorial of something that's not finishing happening?" wrote Lourdes Sofia Jimenez-Rodriguez in an email to AN. "Much less in New York City, where I know there is a large population of Puerto Ricans who moved there after Maria and said they have done everything they can to help. But we're still living here every day." Jimenez-Rodriguez said the blue FEMA tarps that still cover homes around the country remind her of how far this disaster is from being over. It's a motif she focused on in her project. "For me, these represent the mismanagement of resources and aid after the hurricane," she said. "I wanted to make a photomontage of the capitol with broken roof and blue awnings because it is very easy to say that everything is fine when the one who is saying it did not really go through the situation."
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Architects invited to submit designs for New York's Hurricane Maria Memorial

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Hurricane Maria Memorial Commission have put out a call for architects and artists to submit memorial ideas that honor the victims and survivors of the deadly hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico in 2017. Upon selection, the winning design will be placed in Lower Manhattan’s Battery Park City neighborhood along the Hudson River waterfront.  “Hurricane Maria claimed thousands of lives and destroyed countless homes in Puerto Rico, yet the resilience of the Puerto Rican community has shown the world anything can be overcome when we stand together in solidarity,” said Governor Cuomo in a statement. “We want this spirit of strength and community to be reflected in the Hurricane Maria Memorial, and we look forward to seeing how the experts capture it in their designs.”  Interested architects and artists are invited to submit a response to the RFP online by Monday, September 9, 2019, before 11:59 p.m. EST. Designers can submit one design for either proposed sites (the Esplanade and Chamber’s Street Overlook in Battery Park), but only one will be chosen. All submissions will be reviewed by the memorial commission, a 10-person group formed late last summer on the one-year anniversary of the hurricane’s landfall, and led by Congress members Nydia Velazquez (D-NY 7) and Jose E. Serrano (D-NY 15), Assemblymembers Marcos Crespo and Maritza Davila, and New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado. Members include local leaders of Puerto Rican descent such as Edwin Meléndez, director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College; Casimiro D. Rodriguez, Sr. president of the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western NY; Hilda Rosario Escher; Former president & CEO of Ibero American Action League; Brenda Torres, executive director of Corporation for the Conservation of the San Juan Bay Estuary; and Elizabeth Velez, president of The Velez Organization and resident of Battery Park City.  Per Governor Cuomo, the memorial will serve as a physical reminder of the love and respect Americans have for Puerto Rico and will be part of the state’s ongoing support efforts both locally and abroad. In the last two years, New York State has dedicated $13 million toward 11,000 displaced victims living in New York and service organizations that can help them regain their footing.  According to the Pew Research Center, New York boasts the most amount of people of Puerto Rican origin of any state, with over 1.1 million residents—that’s 21 percent of the total 5.1 million living in the mainland U.S. It’s the second-largest Hispanic population in the U.S. with just over half of people concentrated in the northeast region, while 31 percent reside in the South and 19 percent are located in Florida.  Due to the recent political and economic turmoil in the territory, the mainland U.S. now has more Puerto Ricans than the island does itself, at 3.2 million residents. Recent migration patterns reveal that people are moving away due to lack of basic resources and frustration with systemic government corruption. The memorial solicitation opens just after weeks of protests resulted in the resignation of Puerto Rico’s former governor Ricardo Rosselló. But the fight to overturn the powerful Puerto Rican government isn’t over: the territory's Supreme Court just took up a lawsuit this week which aims to take down Pedro Pierluisi, who was sworn in as governor last Friday without proper consent from the Senate. 
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How an architect is using solar power to prevent Puerto Rico's next disaster

Like millions of other Americans, Jonathan Marvel, founding principal at Marvel Architects, remembers watching media coverage stream in from Puerto Rico in September 2017 after Hurricane Maria struck the island. The devastation was extraordinary. As later studies would reveal, an estimated 2,975 people died as a result of the storm and 3.4 million people lost power. It was one of the worst natural disasters to ever strike the U.S.  Now, one year after Maria, Marvel and his partners at Resilient Power Puerto Rico (RPPR) are building a series of solar installations that are bringing emergency power to community centers in informal settlements across the island. Using state-of-the-art Tesla Powerwall batteries, RPPR has enabled these centers to generate solar power during good weather and store it for the blackouts that follow hurricanes and other disasters. Local people can use the centers as shelters where they can charge their phones to find their loved ones, store perishable food, or power life-saving home healthcare devices. The goal of the group was not to rebuild the island's existing infrastructure after Maria, but to provide a new resilient system that would support informal communities when the next storm would inevitably arrive. “When Maria hit," Marvel said, "it hit home.”  Marvel had just returned from Puerto Rico when Maria arrived. He had been helping his mother, who lives on the island, recover from Hurricane Irma, which had blown through only two weeks before. Rather than just sending money to aid organizations, Marvel worked with friends and colleagues Cristina Roig-Morris, ESQ, and José J. Terrasa-Soler, ASLA, to do what architects do best: design a solution to a problem. “Architects jump in,” Marvel said. “We’re the first responders from the professional world. We’re trained to think comprehensively; we’re trained to put the social impact first and foremost.” Rather than tackling the entire enormity of the disaster, Marvel's team focused on power. Electricity, as Marvel put it, "is the basis of all things in the 21st century,” and according to CNN, the hurricane caused the worst blackout in U.S. history. The goal of the group was not to restore electricity to the whole island; that would be an enormous task and one that a slew of government agencies were already working on. Instead, they looked at how they could create supports in the electrical web to catch the most vulnerable when they fell. RPPR’s solution is straightforward but steps neatly aside of the established way of doing things. “We’ve been very deliberate to stay outside of local politics and federal politics,” Marvel said. Instead, the group looked for creative solutions permissible under existing laws. The sun being an abundant resource on the tropical island, solar power provided an obvious place to start exploring possibilities, but they found there were restrictions on what they could do with private generation. “Before Maria, there was a lot of solar power, but it was illegal to store with batteries,” Marvel said. “After Maria, batteries were allowed without permits, which allowed us to start our system legally. But we still can’t distribute past the property line.” Across the country, small-scale solar generation is tightly regulated by power authorities that have been accused of trying to squash home power generation so that utilities can maintain a monopoly on the electricity market. Puerto Rico allowed domestic power storage in Maria's wake, but still would not allow RPPR to create an alternative power network. RPPR would have to make the most of small-scale installations. Doing a lot with a little is a common practice in Puerto Rico, where resources don't always flow as easily as they do on the mainland. Marvel’s mother, the architect and planner Lucilla Fuller Marvel, had worked extensively with community centers in informal settlements across the island (her book Listen to What They Say presented a bottom-up approach to planning in Puerto Rico), and the group realized that they could focus on powering existing hubs. By installing solar panels and batteries, each community center was able to serve a broad population with relatively little effort. “Each site serves a population about 3,000–5,000 people because of the density,” Marvel said. Thousands of people are able to take advantage of the basic amount of electricity available at each installation during post-disaster blackouts when the central power grid collapses. The focus on informal communities also helped RPPR avoid federal bureaucracy, which, Marvel said, “was completely caught off guard.” While President Trump has recently insisted that his administration got “A Pluses” for their response to the storm, Marvel saw the situation differently: “The federal government does not have a great track record on the lower 48 when it comes to hurricane recovery…but states really help each other out." Puerto Rico, being an island and a relatively isolated territory in the Carribbean, is often forced to go it alone. "Puerto Rico doesn’t have anybody waiting to help. The governor of Puerto Rico was counting on the feds…but the feds didn’t step it up.” When it came to designing the installations, RPPR focused on efficacy rather than looking for a flashy, aesthetically-driven design. Panels are installed in prosaic rooftop setups, but Marvel said that he looked for lessons from what survived the storm when it came time for detailing, and the results have proved resilient. The project’s successes have won new backers and collaborators, and enabled it to broaden its ambitions. Tesla joined the project by providing their home storage batteries, and a variety of foundations have provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in support. Now the project has 28 installations across the island, with 30 more in the pipeline. RPPR and Marvel’s work in Puerto Rico tells the story of a resilient network of communities, badly battered but bouncing back from catastrophe. It’s far from the narrative perpetuated by the current presidential administration, which maintains that the federal government saved a helpless island from impending doom. The project also presents a model for how architects can engage with their communities aside from multimillion-dollar cultural projects or philanthropic endeavors in remote countries. “I think it is very easy for architects to jump into these disasters and think of these solutions. Architects are really well equipped and we do it all the time.” The design’s success comes not out of formal gymnastics or phenomenological effects, but from the social and political structures the project engages and builds on. Ultimately, Marvel credited the served communities for the project’s success. “It’s a generous population,” he said. “They open up their hearts and their houses to each other.” The project shows that when people are willing to lend a helping hand, powerful resilience is possible.
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Nation's largest public art project funded via Kickstarter and launching in September

The largest public art campaign in U.S. history features 52 artist-designed billboards and will commence in September in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, thanks to more than 2000 backers across 52 Kickstarter campaigns. The publicly-funded campaign is part of the 50 State Initiative, organized by For Freedoms, a project sponsored by non-profit arts service organization Artadia. The 50 State Initiative also amasses more than 200 institutional partners and 250 artists to produce “additional billboards, lawn signs, town hall meetings, and special exhibitions to encourage broad participation and inspire conversation around November’s midterm elections,” according to a statement from the organizers. Kickstarter Director of Arts Paton Hindle explained that he was pleased to help the For Freedoms team with their first step. “At their core, both For Freedoms and Kickstarter seek to make art an integral part of society. Having all 52 projects succeed on Kickstarter is an affirmation that the greater global community believes in the power of art to spark dialogue and participation.” The billboards will tackle nationwide topics such as democracy, religion, sexual orientation, expression, and systemic oppression. Through the launching of the 50 State Initiative, For Freedoms hopes to create “a network of artists and institutional partners," as well as to “model how arts institutions can become civic forums for action and discussion of values, place, and patriotism.”
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Here's how architects are supplying Puerto Rico with solar energy

In the wake of the profound damage wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, New York-based architects Jonathan Marvel and Walter Meyer are coordinating relief efforts through a Brooklyn nonprofit, the Coastal Marine Resource Center (CMRC), which has initiated a project called Resilient Puerto Rico to supply solar microgrids to municipalities across the island. Walter Meyer, principal at Brooklyn-based Local Office Landscape Architecture, is organizing a large shipment of solar panels, generators, and power inverters to the storm-ravaged island. Meyer himself has family in Puerto Rico, and is looking for longer-term solutions to replace the island's historically faulty energy grid. Immediate recovery efforts, however, are focused on those in particularly dire straits, like seniors and those in need of medical attention, many of whom lack the proper care or medication due to the near-total outage. Supplies are being held at informal community centers in public spaces all over the island. Some of these improvised centers will receive funding from Jonathan Marvel, founding principal of New York firm Marvel Architects. Marvel, who is in San Juan to coordinate recovery efforts, donated $50,000 towards relief centers that provide cell phone chargers, food, and water. When The Architect's Newspaper (AN) spoke with Marvel over the phone, he was in middle of wiring these funds to a Florida-based supplier of solar panels and generators called Sun Electronics. These solar supplies will be sent to 16 community centers across Puerto Rico with existing leadership structures, each serving tens of thousands of nearby residents. Marvel got information about these centers from his mother, Lucilla Fuller Marvel, a career AICP urban planner in San Juan who has worked on resilience planning her entire life. The panels and generators supplied by Sun Electronics will be then shipped down to San Juan, where Marvel and a team of architects from the firms's Puerto Rico office will put together assembly kits before sending them out to the 16 community centers. The island has 78 municipalities in total, and CMRC's eventual goal is to provide every one of them with a solar microgrid. "We're in many ways a perfect candidate for having a grassroots-based, municipality-scale, solar-powered energy grid," Marvel said. His team's longer term goal is to focus on scaling these renewable energy sources to provide more permanent sources of electricity to communities that aren't generated by petroleum plants hundreds of miles away. Marvel and Meyer are also working with Cristina Roig Morris, assistant vice president and senior legal council at AT&T, to fundraise for the project's larger mission, which may receive help from the Rockefeller Foundation. While the coordinated relief effort is ambitious, Marvel has another idea for architecture students currently on the island. Modeled after post-Katrina efforts to relocate students from the Tulane School of Architecture to other design schools where they could continue studies while their school was closed, Marvel would like to create opportunities for architecture students in Puerto Rico to do the same. The idea is in an early stage, and he is brainstorming ways for the three architecture schools in San Juan (serving about 75 to 125 students total) to partner with host schools in the mainland United States to continue their education. Never one to be excluded, Elon Musk has also extended an offer to aid in the propagation of solar energy solutions to the island, tweeting his interest at Puerto Rico's governor Ricardo Rossello this week.

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For those who'd like to pitch in for Puerto Rico's recovery, below are some recommendations of groups, both in Puerto Rico and on the mainland, to check out. This list is based on recommendations from Ruth Santiago and Luis G. Martinez in our original article on the post-Maria energy crisis. On the island, there are a number of groups doing on-the-ground recovery work, including: Unidos por Puerto Rico (United for Puerto Rico), led by the First Lady of Puerto Rico, one of the largest initiatives garnering funds for recovery. ConPRmetidos (Committed), a nonprofit completing impact and needs assessments and seeking to provide power and structural repairs to the communities most in need. Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico (Community Foundation of Puerto Rico), based in San Juan, a philanthropic foundation awarding grants for, among other things, housing and economic development in local communities. Comité Diálogo Ambiental (Environmental Dialogue Committee), the Salinas-based group that Santiago works for, housed under an umbrella organization bringing together community groups, fishers associations, and others, called IDEBAJO–Iniciativa de Ecodesarrollo de Bahia de Jobos (Jobos Bay Ecodevelopment Initiative). Stateside, here are a few diaspora groups participating in recovery work: El Puente | Enlace Latino de Acción Climática (Latino Climate Action Network), based out of Brooklyn, has been holding fundraisers to raise awareness and support for Maria recovery efforts. Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños (Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY) have been pooling community voices, news, and fundraising opportunities since the storm. AN knows this list is not comprehensive, and we encourage readers to leave additional resources in the comments section.
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Puerto Rico's energy crisis calls for sustainable solutions, not more of the same

On September 20th, Hurricane Maria pummeled into the Puerto Rican coast with wind speeds of up to 150 miles per hour, deluging the entire island with rain and quickly pulverizing its energy grid. The entire island was left without power. Puerto Rico's energy infrastructure is notoriously fragile. As Ruth Santiago, a climate advocate and attorney with Comité Diálogo Ambiental, Inc., a Puerto Rican environmental law group, told AN, three fallen trees in 2004 once took out energy for the entire eastern seaboard. Santiago explained that this was largely a geographic problem. Energy is by and large produced by two power plants – the Aguirre Power Complex in Salinas and the Costa Sur plant in Guayanilla. An additional coal-burning plant owned by US-owned AES Corporation is another player. Yet these sites are huge distances from some of the most populated cities. Nearly 230,000 kilowatts of energy are produced by the Aguirre plant, extending through power lines over the central mountain range of the island to the metropolitan area of San Juan, which along with its neighboring cities has a population of about 2 million people – over half of the island's total population of nearly 3.5 million. Transmitting energy at that distance makes the whole grid extremely prone to collapse. In September 2016, a similarly massive outage occurred, but this time due to faulty maintenance, Santiago explained. A general lack of resources and oversight means it is difficult to maintain the grid in the long term, especially as it faces the duress of hurricane-power winds and as these storms become more intense with climate change. Luis G. Martinez, Senior Attorney and Director of Southeast Energy at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), told AN that Puerto Rico's energy problem has been caught in a vicious cycle for quite some time. Earlier this summer, the Puerto Rican power utility PREPA filed for bankruptcy with a $9 million debt. Petroleum isn't cheap, and Puerto Rico is one of the only islands in the Atlantic to operate off of a petroleum-based energy grid (it is the source of about half of the island's electricity). When prices spike, utilities spend all their funds securing fuel, sinking further into debt and unable to break the cycle until they are no longer able to borrow money. Until about two years ago, Martinez said, the Puerto Rico Energy Power Authority (PREPA) was operated with very little oversight. In 2014, the Puerto Rico Energy Commission (PREC) was created to regulate PREPA. Two days after the storm hit, another infrastructural system showed signs of imminent collapse: the Guajataca Dam located on the northwestern end of the island, a 90-year-old, 120-foot-tall structure holding back about 11 billion gallons of water. Three nearby towns, Isabela, San Sebastián and Quebradillas, were immediately evacuated, displacing thousands. Supplying relief from the mainland United States faces its own challenges. Yesterday, President Trump waived the Jones Act for a period of ten days. The Jones Act is a century-old law requiring goods delivered to Puerto Rico to be carried there exclusively on American-owned vessels. This Act has been hindering the delivery of relief supplies to people in need. Representative Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) was responded: "For an entire week, the President was touting his concern for the shipping industry, while refusing to suspend the Jones Act. A ten-day waiver, as the Administration has announced, is far from sufficient given the scope of this tragedy ... To that end, I repeat my call for a one-year waiver of the Jones Act." The President shows no signs of budging. On the ground, recovery efforts are unfolding in myriad ways. Santiago has been working with local advocates on a short-term response to the island's energy crisis, noting that long-term solutions like sustainable energy sources – localized, solar micro-grids being the ideal – are important, but should be implemented carefully in the months to come. For now, she said, municipalities need smaller-scale solutions: cell phone chargers and generators chief among them. She described recently visiting a facility where individuals with diabetes, heart conditions, and cancer were going without their medications because they could no longer be refrigerated. Fortunately, some groups have arisen to work on long-term solutions to the frail energy grid, alongside the efforts of Puerto Rico-based organizations. A Brooklyn-based initiative called Resilient Power Puerto Rico, a project of the Coastal Marine Resource Center (CMRC), is focused on solar energy solutions. In their first phase, they are seeking to provide mobile solar-energy hubs, which are being prototyped in Santurce (a district of San Juan), which will be scaled up to be based in Caguas, a city in the central mountain range of the island when they have more resources. These hubs, if effective, will be able to provide limited power to the residents of small towns around the island. CMRC's mission is quite extensive both in time and scale: by the end of 2017, they hope to deliver more than 100 mobile solar kits to be assembled in public spaces in municipalities, training communities to install the projects along the way. The timeline for the initiative extends through 2021, when they hope to advocate for solar energy for the entire island as a permanent replacement to today's over-stretched grid. The organization has experience implementing these kinds of projects, including in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when CMRC produced scalable solar panels and generators for the hard-hit Rockaway peninsula in New York City. As Santiago explained, with the economic and fiscal crisis the island was already undergoing when Maria hit, any investments should be made in renewable energy and micro-grids, and set the stage for future investments in the same field. As the Hurricane Sandy anniversary approaches on October 29, let us not forget that the same effects in Puerto Rico are currently being suffered tenfold, while receiving much less coverage in the news. When asked what he thought was missing from coverage, Martinez had an immediate response: "The degree of desperation is not being expressed properly. People don't know when food, medical care, or power will come back. People need aid immediately." In Puerto Rico, there are a number of groups doing on-the-ground recovery work, including:

Unidos por Puerto Rico (United for Puerto Rico), led by the First Lady of Puerto Rico, is one of the largest initiatives garnering funds for recovery.

ConPRmetidos (Committed) is a non-profit completing impact and needs assessments and seeking to provide power and structural repairs to the communities most in need.

Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico (Community Foundation of Puerto Rico), based in San Juan, is a philanthropic foundation awarding grants for, among other things, housing and economic development in local communities.

Comité Diálogo Ambiental, Inc. (Environmental Dialogue Committee, Inc.) is the Salinas-based group that Santiago works for, housed under an umbrella organization bringing together community groups, fishers associations, and others, called IDEBAJO–Iniciativa de Ecodesarrollo de Bahia de Jobos, Inc. (Jobos Bay Ecodevelopment Initiative).

In the stateside diaspora, here are a few groups participating in recovery work:

El Puente | Enlace Latino de Acción Climática (Latino Climate Action Network), based out of Brooklyn, has been holding fundraisers to raise awareness and support for Maria recovery efforts.

Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños (Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY) have been pooling community voices, news, and fundraising opportunities since the storm.

Note: We know this list is not comprehensive, and encourage you to leave additional resources in the comments section.
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National Endowment for the Arts awards nearly $75 million in grants across all 50 states

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) on Wednesday announced the latest round of its Art Works and State and Regional Partnerships programs, funding a symphony in Alabama, StoryCorps in Brooklyn, and more than 1,000 different projects across the country. NEA said it will make 1,023 awards totaling $74,326,900 to nonprofit arts organizations in all 50 states—plus the U.S. jurisdictions of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the District of Columbia—by the end of their fiscal year in September. Here's the full list of 1,023 awardees by city and state. The recipients run the gamut from established museums—Tucson Museum of Art will get $15,000 to support an exhibition exploring the art of the American West in popular and mass media, for example—to smaller arts councils and community initiatives. Civic programs are also among the winners. Public Schools systems in Boston, Seattle, and Nashville will receive grants of roughly $100,000 each to expand arts education. Collectively 263 panelists reviewed 1,794 applications for funding, according to an NEA press release. This week's announcement brings NEA funding awarded to date in fiscal year 2015 to $103.47 million.