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Dancing Under the Stars at Viernes Culturales

By S. Mathur

Viernes Culturales/Cultural Fridays is an art, music and culture festival held on the last Friday of every month in the heart of Little Havana in Miami. Started in 2000 to showcase and preserve the rich culture of the area, the Festival welcomes all who enjoy "live music, dancing under the stars, art galleries, domino games, cigar rollers, and local arts and crafts."

Pati Vargas, Executive Director, says "We have 40 kiosks of artisans, painters, jewelry makers, candle makers, plant decors, free face painting booth for children and nonprofits who bring information that is good for the community. Every month we feature different bands, DJs, dance troupes, poetry, children's acts etc"

With so much to see and do, it's difficult to know where to begin. A good place to start might be the free Walking Tour through Little Havana. Led by the respected historian Dr. Paul George, the tour takes in South Florida bungalow architecture, the Tower Theater, old-fashioned hand rollers at a cigar factory, places of worship and cultural history. There is a different tour each month and the experience is worth repeating. The tour begins at 7 pm and lasts an hour or two.

And then there's music everywhere, early and late. Stop in at one of the many live music venues, like CubaOcho Art & Research Center, Alfaro's, Futurama 1637 Art District Cigars, Molina Gallery,Jaleo Ocho, Club Havana, GR Tabacalera, Top Cigars, and others. With salsa bands playing all evening, festival is really a very large block party. There is a wide range of restaurants to choose from, offering Cuban, Thai/Sushi, Uruguayan, Chinese or Spanish food. Casa Panza is known for its giant outdoors paella. The emphasis is on family fun, and for the kids there are street performers, clowns and artisanal ice cream which tastes exactly like homemade.

The mixture of old and new, of nostalgia and cutting edge, can be seen in the artworks in the Futurama 1637 Art Building as well. The nonprofit's office also offers space to artists. In the Viernes Culturales Exhibition Space, she adds, " we also have collective exhibits who cater to talented artists who do not have an avenue to display their art." Vargas says: "Our primary goal is for us to showcase our local and visiting talent. In October we had Cafe con Arte where 52 artists exhibited their work. For Art Basel I do Umbrellas of Little Havana where we display beautiful patio umbrellas painted by local artists along Calle 8."

Visitors can take tango lessons or dance the night away with the salsa bands. There are performances by dance troupes including visiting groups from Latin America. Artisanal crafts are displayed and sold at open air stalls and it takes a lot more will power than most people have to not bring home a piece of jewelry or decoration as a memento. You can catch the fun of Viernes Culturales on the last Friday of every month, on the Calle Ocho between 13th and 17th Avenues, from 7-11 pm.

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