San Nicolas is rapidly reinventing itself. The renovation of the historic water tower in San Nicolas in 2013 symbolized the start of a revitalization process. Most recently the entire Main Street of the San Nicolas city center was renewed, repaved and equipped with seating areas and even a Solar Tree, where electronic devices can be charged on green energy from solar panels, providing free Wi-Fi at the same time.
Goal of the Minister of Culture is to make San Nicolas the cultural capital of the island. The recent Aruba Art Fair, held mid-September 2016, attracted a whopping 10,000 visitors in one weekend and took the island by surprise. Artists from all over the world as well as the local artist community participated in this art event. Some left their mark behind on the walls and buildings surrounding the Main Street. These colorful murals are on display for at least the next 2 years.
Local artists participated in live demonstrations on the street. Local artists’ initiative Korteweg, a popular traveling art fair that launched in 2014, was also present. Five art galleries were created and opened for the occasion of the Art Fair. One of these new galleries, ArtisA (meaning ‘Art is Aruba’) Art Gallery was home of the Aruba Art Fair main exposition with works of 40 local and international established artists. This gallery will open for the public permanently and offers its first new expo Oct 28-30, 2016.
Cosecha, a gathering place for local artists to showcase and sell their craft under one roof, is set to open on the San Nicolas Main Street early 2017. It’s sister-branch by the same name opened two years ago and is located in downtown Oranjestad.
In addition, San Nicolas now boosts a brand new Museum of Industry (opened September 2016) and a soon to open Community Museum in the newly restored Nicolaas Store, all in just a short walking distance of each other. The first floor of the Community Museum, equipped with original wooden doors and authentic floor tiles, will house a bar and gathering place. This museum will open with an exhibition titled San Nicolas Aesthetic and will display numerous perspectives upon what it is that makes this part of the island so unique as well as accentuate the rich and diverse heritage of this city. This exhibition will open in 2017.
The Museum of Industry Aruba, located inside the historic Art Deco building (1939) of the former Water Tower of San Nicolas displays the islands rich history and rapid industrial transformations in nearly 200 years. An interactive display and many historic documents and objects tell a lively story.
Aruba grew from what was presumed to be an isla inutil (useless island) to a producer of gold after finding a first nugget of gold in 1824. With the gathered capital from the short-lived gold mining industry (WWI caused an abrupt stop), Aruba became world-leader in the export of aloe (since 1890), phosphate (1880-1914), and mainly, oil (1933-1985). The most recent development in the transformation process of Aruba is the tourism industry which grew from a 2-hotel initiative in the 1950-ies and ‘60-ies into processing over 1,5 million visitors annually (stats 2015) and making up over 80% of Aruba’s GDP.
San Nicolas, the second capital in the south of Aruba was once the main capital of the island and dominated by the oil industry since the early 1930-ies. Over the course of four decades its demographics changed immensely due to a mixed stream of African/Caribbean and South American workers who were attracted from surrounding islands and countries to fill the 8,000+ jobs in the oil refinery between 1920-ies and 1960-ies. Till this day traces of the multicultural influences in culinary offerings and customs, housing and population are clearly visible in San Nicolas - more than anywhere else on the island.
A unique collection of Nelson Morris photographs (ca 1944) taken in San Nicolas and showcasing Aruba’s diverse and colorful people is on display in the glass tower connecting the two museum floors. On the second floor a video installation recounts the early days of the oil, phosphate and tourism industry, told by six Arubans who’s vivid memories and personal stories make history come to life again.
After the automation process of the oil refinery in the 1960-ies and the closing of the refinery in 1985 lots of people got unemployed and had to reinvent themselves and their careers in search for a brighter future. The majority of the San Nicolas population got new employment in the booming hotel industry, now dominating the entire coastline from Eagle Beach to Palm Beach in the northern part of Aruba.
For more information:
- Museum of Industry Aruba