“Hamilton” brings hope to artists in Puerto Rico

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San Juan, Puerto Rico — It was nearly 16 months ago that hurricanes Maria and Irma slammed into Puerto Rico. The road to recovery has been long, while government bankruptcy and an uptick in violent crime have fueled worry for the future.

“We literally cannot hide our inequality and the poverty of Puerto Rico,” said San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.

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The island’s 2015 bankruptcy on top of costly hurricane recovery has seen funding slashed across the board, including to a huge source of Puerto Rican pride: its arts.

“We have seen cuts of about 95 percent in our operational budget,” said Eduardo Arosemena-Munoz, president of Puerto Rico’s Institute of Culture.

He said the financial cuts have threatened a generation of rising artists. 

“The current generation of teenagers who have been through Hurricane Maria, they have probably grown a very thick skin,” he said.

That includes 13-year-old Sofia Laboy.

“A lot of people lost their homes, lost a lot of things and that really affected this place,” she said.

A gifted performer, Laboy has been taking after-school singing and dance lessons at the only conservatory for music in the Caribbean. But life for the eighth grader was altered by Hurricane Maria. Her family was without power for three months and her school shuttered for weeks.

 Still, she sees hope where there was once despair.

“Oh, something amazing is coming to a place where a lot of stuff was destroyed,” Laboy said.

She’s talking about the Broadway smash “Hamilton,” which opens Friday night for a three-week run in San Juan. Its star and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who has Puerto Rican family ties, expects to raise $15 million to help fund the arts. While some tickets will cost up to $5,000, they’ll only be $10 for 10,000 lucky locals. 

“How do we leave it a little better than we found it?” Miranda said.

On Friday morning, Sofia, a huge Miranda fan, got to meet him.

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