Altos de Chavon

Mene Santana: A Prodigal Chavonero Returns

Mene Santana

This post is also available in: Spanish

Mene_SantanaLanky, quick to smile, and charming as ever, Mene Santana in many ways seems unchanged from the youth I remember studying in Altos de Chavón some 30 years ago.

It is however deceptive, he now lives in Silver Spring Maryland, in the Gatsby era home he’s meticulously restored, with his wife and daughter. When he was a candidate to continue his studies in Communication Design at Parsons as a Chavón graduate in 1985, my wife and I journeyed to Benerito, to the house of Mene’s grandmother, where he was living before coming to Altos de Chavón. It was the simple earthen floor abode of a country person. His grandmother had the anafe, the charcoal brazier, fired up and prepared a coffee, filter sock style for all. The coffee had a grating of nutmeg on it.

Recently Mene returned to see the school and visit his mother in La Romana. It wasn’t his first trip back to the island. But alone, his wife and daughter stayed in the States, he was able to take time to savor the student life of Altos de Chavón and notice the changes in his country.

How do you find the school?

I am amazed at the quality of the student work. The gallery show really took me by surprise. There is so much talent, skill, and hard work visible in every piece.

Did you visit the classrooms?

Yes the library is a treasure, the students all seemed so motivated, so pleased to be in such a beautiful, tranquil, and inspirational environment. They’re happy. The place is relaxed.

What’s different from what you remember?

Technology, as a graphic design student I was drawing type or using transfer type. Now the computers are the contemporary and highly sophisticated instruments. But under it all is the talent and hard work the students demonstrate.

You worked for J.Crew and Disney among others what enabled you to get you first jobs?

Enthusiasm and openness to resolve problems presented to me. Basically it was my possitive, attitude and ability to be inspired even in the face of assignment that were intrinsically boring.

What was a pivotal time or experience for you in Altos de Chavón as a student.

My last year was full of visiting lecturers, Oscar de la Renta, Al Greenberg (Parsons Communication Design chairperson), Italian designer Armando Milani, and later historic art director Henry Wolf and I remember the artists-in-residence, Ken Tisa and others, I remember Aurelio Grisanty doing big murals for the discotheque. Between my first year and second year I visited New York on a program to see Parsons. That’s when I realized learning English was key.

Any advice to this year’s graduates?

Stay inspired, keep going strong. Believe in yourself and project it!

stephen kaplan

Article contributed by Stephen Kaplan

Stephen Kaplan
Rector of the Altos de Chavón School of Art and Design

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