Philadelphia gives back to Puerto Rico with Sunflower Philly fundraiser
On Sept. 28, local graffiti artist Christian “TAMEARTZ” Rodriguez will host an all-day celebration of hip hop culture, music, and Puerto Rico at the North Philadelphia community space.
For local graffiti artist Christian “TAMEARTZ” Rodriguez, the suffering and tragedy that The Bahamas has seen since Category 5 Hurricane Dorian struck two weeks ago is “incredibly sad,” and deserves the attention and support of people in the U.S. and throughout the world.
But as the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s devastating blow to Puerto Rico approaches, Rodriguez wants to remind Philadelphians of the continued challenges faced by Puerto Ricans on the island struggling to rebuild — and invite them to help.
“It still hasn’t been able to catch up. It’s still not anywhere where it should be or where it can be,” he said.
More than 300 schools have been closed since the hurricane hit the island, and basic infrastructure is still lacking, particularly in rural areas: while flying low over the island from the capital of San Juan to his hometown of Mayagüez on the west coast, Rodriguez said you can see a landscape dotted with the blue tarps that continue to serve as roofs for many homes.
But Rodriguez believes that, “brick by brick,” Puerto Ricans and non-Puerto Ricans in Philadelphia can contribute to supporting recovery efforts on the island — particularly in rural and underserved areas, like his own neighboring hometowns of Mayagüez and Añasco.
To support the island’s continued recovery, and connect the Puerto Rican diaspora community to those on the island, on Sept. 28 Rodriguez will host “The Giveback: Puerto Rico Fundraiser,” an all-day celebration at Sunflower Philly, a community arts space at N. Fifth Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue.
For a pay-what-you-wish entry fee, anyone will be able to come to the community space starting at 11 a.m. to witness live painting sessions featuring graffiti artists and muralists from around the world, enjoy Puerto Rican dishes from a number of food trucks, and play games, which will include “domino set-ups for the OGs,” Rodriguez said.
From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., music and dance will take over. Maria Del Pilar and DJ Tony2Teks will host a Latin night, complete with performances by Siempre Salsa All Stars and more.
All proceeds from the event will go directly to a grassroots volunteer effort designed to connect the diaspora community in Philadelphia with NGOs, community partners, and local businesses on the ground in Puerto Rico.
Their goal it to use the funds to “help out with community centers that have already been helping” through grassroots efforts, Rodriguez said, citing corruption by officials on and off the island as one of the reasons the group is working to ensure transparency through filming exactly how donations are put to use, and operating without connection to the government.
“I feel like every Puerto Rican that’s not in the island is so critical to how to make Puerto Rico sustainable,” Rodriguez said, noting that the goal is to raise $40,000 through the event and via a GoFundMe page.
Rodriguez said that in addition to its purpose as a fundraiser, the gathering is also a celebration of Puerto Rican culture, as it falls within Hispanic Heritage Month and will be a day before Philly’s Puerto Rican Day Parade on Sept. 29.
“I want people to come to my space over there at Fifth and Cecil B. Moore, and get a sense of culture,” Rodriguez said.
The open community space, created by Rodriguez, Melvin Powell, and rapper Asher Roth, is meant to be “a safe haven” for youth, and a place where all area residents can engage with the arts, Rodriguez said.
Under the artist name of “TAMEARTZ,” Rodriguez has a long history of engaging with community through his artistic work. After he moved to Philadelphia as a child, he became enamored with hip hop culture, and has since achieved international recognition as a graffiti artist: In 2017, Rodriguez became the first graffiti artist to be featured at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
To meet their fundraising goal, Rodriguez and Sunflower Philly partnered with local philanthropists Victor and Madeline Neris Negron, who are moving to Puerto Rico full-time in December, Roth, as well as community sponsor Chadwick Smith of Flow Development and Technology.
Rodriguez said the plan is to approach their efforts to support the continued rebuilding efforts on the island in steps - the first $1,000, for example, will go to purchasing 500 cases of water to distribute in communities where it’s needed.
“It’s not gonna be a one-off, ‘We’re just taking a picture with a check and..oh, we donated.’ That’s not the case. We’re actually gonna go and by the fact that we’re doing the sustainable thing we’re going to continue to rotate and go back and keep going and make sure that these programs are standing for years to come,” he said.
To strategize how best to use the funds, organizers will also talk to the youth in different communities on the island to figure out what they need and give them “ a sense of ownership” over how the support is used.
Rodriguez said that events like The Giveback and beyond are important because Puerto Ricans in Philadelphia and throughout the mainland are vital to the well-being of those on the island.
“Us in the diaspora, we’re so critical to Puerto Rico’s existence. And the biggest thing I want to convey to non-Puerto Ricans [is that] in general we know that any natural disaster, not just Puerto Rico, any natural disaster that happens in the world, it’s not just that race or that demographic of people’s thing,” he said.
“It’s a human race issue.”