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Artist exchange in Cape Town

“If you’re heart says so, stop thinking and go all the way”. Get to know Alberto from San Jose, Costa Rica and how he ended up in Cape Town doing what he loves the most - drawing. He tells us of how we can use art to uplift people in every day life.

Artist exchange in Cape Town


I met Alberto while he was creating a black and white drawing that spread across two bunk beds in a dorm room at Once in Cape Town. He looked like he had been in there for a while, a week in fact. Snacks everywhere, sitting on the ground, admiring the sketch that he had created so far. He was foreign. I wondered what brought him here. Was he an artist that travelled the world? I grabbed him out for a long over-due coffee, one that would get us through hours of conversation. Working with Once Youth Hotels, I am always inspired to be creative. So here I am, creating a blog post on someone my life crossed paths with.

Alberto's artwork at Once in Cape Town
Final product - Alberto at Once in Cape Town 

Alberto was born in San Jose, Costa Rica. He applied for a mural exchange with Once in Cape Town last year. Mural exchanges are an awesome opportunity for artists to showcase their work in countries all over the world. It brings people from different parts of the world together to share stories and experiences, as well as culture and art. In exchange for accommodation, Once in Cape Town received an epic piece of artwork that depicts the unique and characteristic buildings of Cape Town.

Alberto was a creative from a young age, passionate about art, but understood the reality of what it meant financially if he were to follow this passion at such a young age. Would he make enough money to build a life for himself? Would he make enough money to travel or to build a house? He enjoyed drawing for a hobby until he was 16 years old when he gave it up to focus all his energy on studying. After graduating from University, he went on to work eight years as a financial analyst, travelling at least twice a year, one to two months at a time. Travel has always been a big part of his life, a part of his life that gave it depth. Meeting new people and learning new experiences were shaping and building hope for a fulfilling life, a feeling that people are continuously seeking. Travelling was always an escape from the gruelling demands of his career like for a lot of people. He didn’t want to live for his time off, he wanted to live in the present and be fulfilled by the work he was creating and to impact positively on the people close to him. The million dollar question… “What’s my purpose and what do I want to do the most?”

Alberto's artwork
A piece of art by Alberto. 

The turning point a year ago was when a sudden work opportunity landed him in Cape Town. It has been Alberto’s dream to live and work in Cape Town doing what he loves, drawing. It goes without saying that Cape Town has this effect on people. Maybe it’s the mountain. No definitely, it is the mountain. It smacks you in the face. The whole city bowl is framed by this imposing mountain range. There’s an unexplainable energy that runs through the city and its people. It’s inspiring, captivating and unpredictable all at the same time. It moved something inside him. It inspired him to paint again. Alberto quit his job shortly after moving and started off on his journey in a new way of life.

Cape Town as a city has been pivotal in his change of life due to the poverty he was exposed to.  Poverty is a harsh reality that people face all over the world and it is important to understand that South Africa has one of the highest economic inequalities. South Africa is currently suffering from the effects of the Apartheid regime and the ‘Group Areas Act’ which forbade black and white, Asian, Indian, or any race to mix. Forcibly removed from their houses, non-whites were relocated far out of the city and purposely displaced from family and friends that were spread across other locations. As a result, there is a large homeless and disadvantaged population today. As the privileged minority, the apparent situation inspired him to use his advantage to benefit and help make change for others.

Alberto in South Africa

On one random day in Cape Town, Alberto found himself opening up to his Long Street barber while getting a haircut…as you do. He shared his feelings about wanting to engage with the community and use art as a way of uplifting the people. I asked, "how exactly does art help"? I have never been inclined in drawing or painting so I found it hard to relate to what he was saying. He explained art has a power to help you disconnect - like sport, to bring you to the present moment and lose yourself. It brings an opportunity to stop thinking about yourself, override your ego and focus on what you’re doing. Art is about creating, not necessarily about ‘nice looking’ stuff or being an artist as such. He wanted to show children that art is not about beauty but about creating for the sake of being in the moment. It’s not about being good at it, but it’s about doing something, creating something, bringing upon a feeling of accomplishment and contentment. He explains, there is a disconnection from simply creating as we are now designed to only be productive for money.

The barber connected him to Lawrence House, a place that specialises in the care and protection of unaccompanied foreign minors and refugee children, as well as children who have experienced trauma. He made contact and from there he started volunteering and teaching art to these children. Dala art supplies offered all the tools to do so.

This has now given born to his idea that there needs to be more spaces that are not just socialising, but a place to keep you grounded and sane in this modern day world. It is Alberto’s dream to open a gallery coffee shop, to work with people and offer workshops.

In the wise words of Alberto, “if your heart says so, stop thinking and go all the way”.

Pura Vida


✌ Sophie | Once Travel

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