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Art fairs

After years of debt and disaster, Puerto Rico’s Meca art fair offers economic boon

Opening this week in San Juan, the third edition of the event hopes to help the region on the road to recovery

Performance work staged at last year’s Meca art fair Raquel Perez-Puig

When Puerto Rico’s Meca fair launched in San Juan in June 2017, the US territory had a $123bn debt burden and had just filed for bankruptcy. In September of that year, Hurricane Maria hit the island, killing around 3,000 people and causing $90bn in damage, delaying the second edition of the fair in 2018 while worsening the debt crisis. It also left many artists in the region unable to work due to lack of materials and electricity.

Meca (short for Mercado Caribeño) returns for its third year in large part thanks to collaboration with the Puerto Rico Tourism Company and the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture in an attempt to lure tourist dollars to the region to spur recovery.

Although an art fair can only do so much for major civic recovery, Meca’s director of business initiatives Hazel Colón says the fair results in “wider access to opportunities and global support networks” as well as direct and indirect economic benefits in the cultural sector and beyond.

The 2019 iteration hosts 30 exhibitors. Some participants such as New York’s Gavin Brown’s Enterprise are returning to the fair, but there are nine galleries new to the island, including major contemporary Latin American dealers such as Mendes Wood DM of São Paolo and New York, the Argentinian gallery Revolver and Proyectos Ultravioleta of Guatemala, as well as Misako & Rosen from Japan.

Meca co-founder Tony Rodríguez says the fair is crucial to establishing a valuable marketplace, which is “non-existent within the cultural ecosystem of the island, the Caribbean and some parts of Latin America”.

Meca, Antiguo Arsenal de la Marina Españolas, San Juan, 21-24 November