Sacred Owl to Rise from Puerto Rico’s Rubble

Did you watch the MÚCARO owl burn in Black Rock City in 2017? What did you imagine would arise from the ashes?

Well, the evocative experience of MÚCARO is set to rise again — but this time from the rubble of Puerto Rico, bringing connection, hope and healing to the island that was devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

The artist El NiNo and the Parliament Art Crew will build this new version of the sculpture — ‘MÚCARO for Puerto Rico’ — with the help of the local community and a 2018 Burning Man Global Art Grant.

They will build the 22-foot interactive, wooden sculpture at the Ricky Martin Foundation — Centro Tau in the town of Loiza, where it will provide a community space for refuge, reflection and play, and a classroom for educational and change-making initiatives.

The owl’s exterior will be constructed from repurposed fallen trees and debris found across the island following the hurricanes’ destruction, and the “feathers” will be etched from reclaimed wood and other materials. A telescope will enable people to watch the world through an owl’s eyes and view the panorama of the island.

The mission of #MÚCARO4PR is to spread awareness about the ongoing struggle throughout the island and the people who desperately need to be remembered. It will also serve as a reminder that in the wake of a catastrophe we can accomplish magical things and help one another realize our full potential if we work together.

Puerto Ricans have shown resilience, proactiveness and an immense spirit of solidarity since the 2017 hurricanes. However, hardship still affects their daily lives to a shocking degree, and the destruction by Irma and Maria has aggravated an already strained economy that was receiving very limited federal support.

We all need to make sure they don’t become the ‘forgotten Americans’ and that we support them as they recover from their losses and rebuild their lives.

Right now, we have the opportunity to come together in support of MÚCARO for Puerto Rico, and to inspire hope and healing throughout the beloved ‘Isla del Encanto’ — the Enchanted Island.

Although the Global Art Grant will get the project off to a good start, El NiNo’s volunteer team will be fundraising tirelessly to make this vision a reality and meet the $40,000 budget needed to complete the project.

The Origin of MÚCARO

El NiNo was the first Puerto Rican artist to bring art to Black Rock City, and his first piece, #GotFramed, appeared on playa in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, El NiNo and his Parliament Art Crew built MÚCARO after the artist received a Burning Man Honoraria.

MÚCARO honored inspirational teachers and educators everywhere who have influenced the course of their students’ lives, and it was dedicated to one teacher in particular, Mrs Alicea, the artist’s mother, who taught for more than 45 years on the island.

The art project was inspired by the majestic Puerto Rican screech owl, which the indigenous Taíno people deeply revered. They carved petroglyphs of the bird inside the island’s numerous cave systems, which date back as far as the 13th century. Originally presumed to possess the ability to see into the supernatural realm, this sacred owl continues to be esteemed by the islanders.


After witnessing the happiness his art had brought to so many people on the playa, El NiNo wanted to transport his cherished owl to the island where he was born and raised, giving the people of his homeland the opportunity to experience these same joys.

“The first MÚCARO brought so much joy, from its interior schoolroom character replete with books, photographs and classroom memorabilia, to its rotating head with a 360º view from inside, that participants left moved and inspired with memories of their own childhood education and creative dreams,” El NiNo says.

An Island in Crisis

However, a mere 15 days after El NiNo returned to Los Angeles from Black Rock City in 2017, two Category 5 hurricanes, Irma and María, crushed Puerto Rico.

El NiNo was heartbroken as he watched the disaster unfold upon the 3.4 million residents, including his family and childhood friends. After collecting donations from his Los Angeles community, the artist traveled to the island to distribute them with community leaders wherever they could.

There, he witnessed the plight of countless families, many now living in shacks, their homes gone with the wind. He saw people crossing mountains of trash and treacherously deep rivers on foot to access their basic necessities. Many told him that they had not yet had any help from the government and were struggling to pick up the pieces.


Having experienced the trauma of his people first hand, El NiNo decided that he had to do whatever he could to alleviate this situation and to lift people’s spirits again. What if he created a new MÚCARO out of the wreckage?

“I like to create art with a purpose, in this case to do my part and help my island,” El NiNo says.

And so this new project was born.

Hope, Healing And Learning

El NiNo says the new project aims to provide “a refuge from daily challenges and a safe place to exhale, explore and play once more”, and to strengthen the Puerto Rican community through the meaningful experience of human connection, creativity and engagement.

The construction of MÚCARO for Puerto Rico will draw together local artists, teachers, youth and other community members, giving them the opportunity to learn creative and collaborative thinking.

“This is essential for developing innovative solutions to the island’s complex environmental and social problems,” says El NiNo.

The project will also boost the local economy by purchasing tools, materials and food from local businesses during the build.

El NiNo plans to create a classroom that supports thought-provoking programs, unveils the positive, creative side of sustainability, and helps transform the participants — particularly the island’s youth — into proactive agents of change.

“My hope is that people will interact with #MÚCARO4PR as art and as an educational tool. To be transported and have a sense of adventure. To feel free to wander, to ask questions, to have internal discoveries, and perhaps these discoveries will inspire them to inspire others,” he says.


Partnering With Others

El NiNo’s team will collaborate with organizations such as Ruckus Roots, an LA-based nonprofit organization that merges art and sustainability to offer empowering, interactive experiences for underserved communities.

Together, they aim to provide youth and adults in Puerto Rico with artistic opportunities that connect them to their communities, the planet and their own creative powers.

Meanwhile, school districts will be invited to participate in art workshops and educational field trips, with an emphasis on sustainability and outdoor storytime.

El NiNO hopes to develop a volunteer system to maintain the upkeep of the pavilion and further encourage a sense of ownership and pride in the piece.

“When we build with the community and for the community, we gift them a sense of ownership and pride to take care of it,” he says.

How to Help

El NiNo’s team is looking for volunteers on the island of Puerto Rico to help with trucking, materials, donations, storage space, food and so on. In terms of volunteers on the mainland, it would be very helpful to find people or organizations who could:

  • help to fundraise
  • spread the word about MÚCARO for Puerto Rico
  • connect the project with sustainable energy businesses and other like-minded projects
  • sponsor the project.

The team is currently working with the Ricky Martin Foundation and Project Backboard and would love to connect with anyone interested in sponsoring or helping the project, and who shares the same goals of inspiring a philosophy of sustainability. (Tax deductible donation slips for companies, clients and agencies can be provided.)

A minimum of $40,000 is needed to realize the project to its full potential. Donations can be made here.

Thank you so very much — your help is sincerely appreciated. Together, we can make a difference for the people of Puerto Rico!

Here are some words from the artist himself:

Top photo by Patrick Kelley

About the author: Lucy Alesbury

Lucy Alesbury

Born and raised in England, Lucy’s dream of saving endangered species from extinction led her to leave her hamlet in the countryside to travel across five continents, where she picked up six languages and became an adventure tour guide and interpreter. Six years living in 15 Hispanic countries left a deep impression on Lucy, due to the overwhelming hospitality and kindness she continually experienced. She wanted to give back to the Latino community in some way and so, since moving to Southern California, has been working with Latino-based nonprofits to assist with matters such as food waste and food insecurity. Since her first burn in 2014, where she helped build the Struts ‘n’ Bolts catenary dome, she has joined her local OC camp, Running of the Balls, where she was given the playa name ‘Squirrel’ - because she manages to engage with everyone everywhere, seemingly all at the same time, never needing to stop and rest for more than five minutes at a time! She aims to encourage the world to live in the moment, care for the environment and get to know the locals!

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