SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — Bad weather rocked the Southwest Airlines flight from Havana to Tampa.
It was Havana artist Marian Valdes' first ever trip to the United States — a scary prospect by itself. Turbulence made it more frightening, she said.
Then she arrived and was greeted with a hug by her host Tracy Reller.
"I felt comfortable and welcome," Valdes said. "Now I want to stay longer."
Valdes had been in Tampa just minutes and she had already accomplished one goal of her visit — to help bring Tampa and Havana artists closer together.
Her second objective will be fulfilled Saturday at 7 p.m. when Valdes — an accomplished printmaker — exhibits her work at Tempus Projects, a not-for-profit art space at 4636 N Florida Ave. in Seminole Heights.
Valdes is part of an ongoing exchange program started this year between Tempus Projects and the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts in Havana, the oldest fine arts school in Cuba and where she teaches.
Two artists from Tampa and two from Havana participate each year.
Valdes is the second artist from the academy to come to Tampa. One from Tampa has already been to Havana and another will make the trip in October, though the person has not yet been selected.
The visits last a month and culminate in an exhibit that include pre-existing work and pieces created in the host city alongside a local artist.
Valdes worked with printmaker Erika Greenberg-Schneider who operates the Bleu Acier studio in Tampa.
"This is an exciting opportunity to understand the difference between being an artist in Tampa and Cuba," said Reller, founder of Tempus Projects.
Valdes' exhibit, titled "Addicted Involution," deals with mankind's penchant for over consumption. In one print started in Havana and finished in Tampa, the prey of primal hunters is shopping carts, against the backdrop of a $55 bill.
"A main reason for us existing is to act as a conduit for this community and artists," Reller said. "This fits into that perfectly."
Tempus Projects was launching a residency program that provides artists from around the country an apartment and workspace in the non-profit's Seminole Heights studio when, in December 2015, Tampa artist Yosbel Amor suggested it be expanded to include Havana.
And his father, Vicente Amor, vice president of the Tampa-based Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation that facilitated the partnership between the Florida Aquarium and National Aquarium of Havana, had the needed connections to get it started.
"Tempus Projects is a great example of how culture keeps our nations united despite the differences," Vicente Amor said.
Cuban mixed media artist Julio Cesar Perez Moracen was in Tampa in March.
The following month, Tampa native Christina Humphreys, who now resides in San Francisco, traveled to Havana and stayed in the academy's dormitory.
The Cuban artist who helped her with a series of embroideries influenced by iron gates in Havana was Valdes.
"It was a great experience," Humphreys said. "And Marian and I became really great friends."
It's her new friends in Tampa that Valdes said she will miss the most when she returns to Havana on July 27. Still, she will leave something behind.
Tradition is that when someone exhibits at Tempus Projects they place a present they created in each of the 30 lockers rented by local artists.
Neither Valdes nor Bleu Acier's Greenberg-Schneider who helped would say what the gift will be.
"I love the people here," Valdes said. "Everyone is so kind and we are not that different. We could come from Tampa, Cuba or maybe China but deep down we are all a little bit the same."
Contact Paul Guzzo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.