By Meaghan Agnew | Boston Globe
Michelle Wojcik knows what it is to be an island. As the owner of Galeria Cubana, the only gallery in New England to deal exclusively in contemporary Cuban art, Wojcik spends her days and nights managing every particular of her business, from hanging artwork to changing light bulbs.
The Lowell native has long been fascinated by Cuba. While studying for her master’s degree in applied anthropology at American University, Wojcik got involved in a project with the Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales in Miramar. She deepened her ties to the island nation while an assistant director to the Cuba Project at the World Policy Institute in New York from 2001 to 2004, spending a summer in Havana in 2002.
“That was the point when I really fell in love with the artwork,” said Wojcik, 36. “I was taken by the unbelievable creativity of the people.”
After a brief stint with the PBS documentary series “Frontline” in 2005 (a job that brought her back to New England), Wojcik sought a new career direction. Her plans crystallized when she took a class in entrepreneurship and was asked by an instructor what she really wanted out of her next job.
“I said sort of snidely, ‘Well, if I really did want I wanted to do, I’d go down to Cuba and bring back art,” recalled Wojcik. “And he said, ‘Well, maybe that’s what you should do.’ “
She opened Galeria Cubana in Provincetown in June 2007, featuring work she got on consignment from the Cuban Art Space in New York.
After two successful seasons, the Beacon Hill resident began contemplating a second outpost in Boston, ultimately choosing an airy space in the SoWa district. “There’s really great synergy around here,” she said of the neighborhood. The latest Galeria Cubana installment debuted in March to packed crowds; Wojcik will spend the coming season managing both galleries (she just moved to a larger space in Provincetown Massachusetts on Cape Cod) with the help of her assistant, Carlos Escobar.
Her current travel license, one of approximately 30 issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control to galleries and museums in the US, allows Wojcik multiple Cuba trips a year to purchase art. The voyages are hands-on instructionals in time management. “It’s constant work,” said Wojcik, who just left on her latest trip to the island. “You’re just running, running, running, to do everything you can do quickly.”
Wojcik sees her mission as two-fold: bring exposure and financial support to Cuban artists while educating US patrons about the exciting work being produced on there. She points to recent coverage of the Havana Biennial art exhibition as proof that “increasingly, Cuban art is getting recognized internationally, and respected.”
What advice do you have for a non-aficionado who is looking to begin collecting art? It depends. It’s always a good tactic to go to the art schools if you’re looking to get a good price. But I’m a believer in getting what you like. If you want to have it on your wall, you’ve just got to be in love with it. If I think about what I have in my place, I don’t really care whose name is on it.
Favorite book about Cuba? I’ve read a lot of scholarly books, mostly political, so it seems funny to emphatically recommend something. However, I would recommend the book “Art Cuba: The New Generation” by Holly Block to people curious about Cuban art.