One of the highlights of this last month was our video conversation with Laura Quincy Jones. It is always fulfilling to personally connect with SabbaticalHomes.com members, and talking with Laura was no exception. Read on to learn more about this inspiring artist and how she shares her love of the Cuban culture and people with those on her art tours.
About Laura Quincy Jones
Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, Laura Quincy Jones is a painter and teacher now living and working in Havana, Cuba. Here, Laura has gotten to know colorful neighbors and friends, work on her Spanish and Cuban dancing, teach English in her community, and meet her husband, Yasser Torriente-Rodriguez. Laura and Yasser, along with their baby daughter Rosa, organize fun and meaningful tours for visitors, introducing them to the Cuba they love. Most of their tours are groups of families and friends who choose their own dates for travel and are closely involved with planning their preferred activities.
Related: Cuba Art Adventures
How did you come to live in Cuba?
I came to Cuba initially just looking for an interesting (and warm) place to spend a few months while I worked on some other painting and writing projects I hoped to complete. A “sabbatical,” I thought. I definitely didn’t expect to fall in love – in any way. However, life had a different plan for me!
Actually, I had a lot of logistical obstacles – getting sick, running out of cash, having a hard time finding places to stay – nothing related to people, but logistics are usually complicated in Cuba. I arrived just before Obama opened Cuba up for easy travel for US citizens, and everything was shifting rapidly in terms of foreigners’ experiences here.
Nonetheless, I met so many vivid personalities: people of all ages who helped me, shared genuine warmth and humor, talked with me and enlivened all kinds of ideas I found fascinating and confusing in the most interesting ways. Also, the physical environment of decaying elegance is so organic and layered, my aesthetic sense had a feast at every glance. I had a lot to digest.
Over the next year, I returned to Havana a few times to visit friends, then I decided to try living in Cuba fulltime in January 2017. Like other times I went to live abroad, I figured I could always return to my original home after a few months if things didn’t work out. However, in Cuba, unlike other places I had visited, I wanted to stay and live, not just stay for a while.
I can’t express how much I value the flexibility to be able to follow my heart in terms of where I live for a short or long time. SabbaticalHomes has been invaluable in facilitating that flexibility. With the income from renting my apartment in Cambridge, I’m able to live (simply!) in places I want to experience from the inside.
How has your time in Cuba and your time in other countries affected your art?
Travel and making art have gone hand-in-hand for me for the last 10 years. I’m an illustrator and focus on place-based scenes: cityscapes, interiors, farm scenes, homes. When I slow-travel in remote corners, the purpose of making detailed art of the images that impact me most in real time has been very rewarding.
I have a reason to stay, find a comfortable place to sit and work, observe the environment day in and day out, and capture the details that locals sometimes forget to notice. In Australia, I was working on an illustrated narrative about life on 12 organic farms.
In Cuba, I decided to make a series of 30 postcard-sized paintings of daily life. When I returned to Boston from those initial travels, I showed and sold prints of those series, which was also a great way to meet people who were interested in beautiful places in the world.
Now that I’m a new Mom, I use my camera to capture images that capture me… and brainstorm narratives for children’s books that we might enjoy creating as a family.
Related: Laura Quincy Jones: Art Gallery
How did you come up with the idea to start Cuba Art Adventures?
Happily, I can thank some of my wonderful students – who have since become friends – in my adult education art classes for the inspiration. After my first long trip to Cuba, they lobbied and lobbied that I organize a trip to Cuba for painters.
Initially I resisted because I had no experience as a tour guide and I love to travel independently. But I realized that I knew a lot of great Cuban guides and hosts, guesthouses, and ins-and-outs of travel in Cuba. It seemed like a good opportunity to support some Cubans who had really helped me as well. We gave it a try with one group, then another and another, and everyone had a great time.
We had our share of unexpected twists and turns – those are an inevitable part of traveling in Cuba but often lead to the most memorable and fun adventures. Having good locals involved really helps avoid the twists and turns becoming serious headaches for the visitors.
Eventually we realized that most of our participants are creative people or friends-of-the-arts, but people really want to soak in the Cuban culture – which is a lot to take in in a short time – and not feel pressured to create artwork at the same time. So now the art theme is always very flexible and customized by each group. Designing Cuba Art Adventures tours, we prioritize fun and meaningful cultural immersion, getting to know lots of great Cubans and their projects.
What is the most special thing you are able to share with those on the tours?
People! Cubans themselves are exceptionally warm and vivid people, humble and with rich life experience. As one participant said to me, “I’m beginning to get it. Cuban people are so intelligent in a really creative way. People include you right away, and everything they’re doing is great quality.”
Visitors feel this when they see projects created from scratch – from a mosaic village, to a restaurant or garden constructed with entirely re-purposed materials, to whatever you find under the hood of one of the classic cars powered by ingenuity and “adaptations”.
Sharing adventures with Cubans and talking about life, visitors also get a window into the kind of resiliency, clarity, and deep-rooted positivity that are inspiring for many people coming from the U.S. We have a lot to learn here.
Is there anything that guests on your tours are commonly surprised about?
Everyone tells us they’re surprised how easy it actually is to get to Cuba legally. Because of the history between the US and Cuba, many Americans are still unsure if it’s legal for them to travel, and think there are going to be some complicated hoops to jump through.
When they realize the process is virtually the same as traveling to any other country – except that all they need to do is click one option on a drop-down box menu for Cuba visa categories when they purchase their airline ticket online – they feel so relieved. Also, it helps that Cuba is so safe. In the end folks tell us it’s much more accessible than they expected.
How do you use SabbaticalHomes.com and how did you find our website?
A friend who was going on sabbatical herself told me about it, and I’ve been hooked ever since! I own a little condo in Cambridge, MA, right between Harvard and MIT, so it’s been easy to find wonderful renters from all over the world when I decided I’d like to be abroad. I also use SabbaticalHomes to find nice places for me and my family to stay when we come back to visit the U.S., and I just recommended it to my Mom, who needs a short-term rental in Cambridge while she does some research.
I’ve been an academic for some years, but even when I’m not affiliated with a university the site is a great connection because my apartment is in a university town and I understand what it’s like to be an academic looking for a quiet, comfortable place to stay when abroad. I really appreciate that SabbaticalHomes allows renters and tenants to communicate directly and work out logistics on their own, without over-mediating. It’s a very reliable community in my experience, and people are good at keeping things clear. My neighbors are always asking me where I get all these great renters.
Do you rent your home in Boston often?
Yes, I’ve been renting my home full time for almost 10 years. I learned that it’s important to stay on the academic year schedule with my rentals, but if I do that I can find great folks consistently. Thank you SabbaticalHomes!
And thank you, Laura. It’s been a pleasure!
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