When Janice Aponte reached her mom in Puerto Rico on a recent evening, she was still recovering from the latest earthquakes to hit the island.
“She hasn’t slept at all,” said Janice, who was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, but now lives in the Logan Square area. “There were six tremors yesterday, another small earthquake this morning. It’s been going on since December.”
As she talked, Janice and her friend Erica Sanchez were packing up relief supplies to take to the airport. Instead of bug spray and bottled water, however, this particular shipment contained something less expected—14 boxes of papers, paintbrushes, oil pastels, canvases, and other art materials.
Aponte and Sanchez are co-founders of Arte al Rescate (art to the rescue), a nonprofit they created to help support relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit in 2017. Leveraging Janice’s contacts as an artist, the two were able to collect and auction off paintings from around the world, raising nearly $20,000 at their first fundraiser at Logan Square’s Hairpin Arts Center.
Their success prompted them to continue their efforts, and they’ve since expanded into other areas—including providing materials and support for art therapy workshops aimed at helping Puerto Rican residents process the traumas they have experienced.
“After the hurricane, my sister’s family had no electricity for months,” said Sanchez. “The way the kids passed the days was coloring. It’s been a very good coping mechanism… something they were able to do when they did not have access to electricity.”
Since Hurricane Maria, the island has suffered from infrastructure damage, lack of basic resources, health issues and displacement. This year brought more earthquakes to the region, which most recently got hit with a 5.9-magnitude earthquake Feb. 1, after a week of smaller earthquakes along the southwestern coast, according to the United States Geological Survey.
“People are already traumatized from Hurricane Maria,” Aponte said. “You have these earthquakes now. People are on constant edge… there are thousands of displaced families.”
“It’s not only about toothbrushes and toothpaste and things like that they need,” she said. “It’s also about helping with their anxiety.”
Arte al Rescate is working with a partner called Art Fusion and others to lead art workshops in several areas of Puerto Rico. The groups work with children as well as teens and adults, encouraging them to color, draw, and paint to help come to terms with what they’ve experienced.
The organization also recently partnered with The Dreaming Zebra Foundation and Chicago’s Blick Art Materials to gather donated art supplies. A special exhibit at Blick’s Lincoln Park location, “Sowing Seeds, Harvesting Dreams,” displayed paintings from workshop participants, which were sold to raise additional funds to support the program.
“We’ve been able to do all this through the visual arts,” Aponte said. “We are helping to rebuild Puerto Rico one art piece at a time.”
For more information, or to purchase a painting of your own, you can visit Arte al Rescate’s website or set up an appointment to visit Janice Aponte’s studio at Workshop 4200 (4200 West Diversey Ave.) by calling 773-750-3003.
Featured photo: Arte al Rescate