about the project
Valor y Cambio (#valorycambio) is a story-telling, community-building, and solidarity economy project started by the artists Frances Negrón-Muntaner and Sarabel Santos Negrón. It raises the question of what Puerto Ricans value as a society and introduces a community currency—pesos of Puerto Rico—as a means of change, in the sense of both money and social transformation.
A “community currency” is a type of money that is created and adopted autonomously by communities to meet their own needs for cooperation and exchange. It does not require the backing of the state, corporations, or other entities. Presently, there are thousands of social currencies in use in many parts of the world, including Brazil, England, Spain, South Korea, and the United States. Community currencies are not usually used as a substitute for national or dominant currencies but they can fulfill important financial functions and offer a way to build solidarity economies that are not based on profit.
One of the reasons the project has developed a community currency is to challenge the idea that communities with little access to the dominant economy are inherently poor. While high unemployment may mean a community is denied access to global commodities and services, many communities that are labeled as “poor” are actually rich in shared resources that may be undervalued. For instance, its members may have vital skills in areas such as construction, healing, or agriculture. Many “poor” communities are also rich in the depth and quality of their social relationships. The pesos of Puerto Rico then aims to facilitate the exchange of those local skills, relationships, and knowledges in ways that benefit communities and regions.
The project has two phases. In the first phase, beginning in February of 2019, the artists will circulate six pesos of Puerto Rico bills in denominations ranging from 1 to 25. A mobile “valor y cambio” or VyC machine, an ATM-style device, will travel to various locations distributing bills and, in return, gather stories on video about what people value. The project seeks to create a community dialogue on how these values could transform society, economics, and government. Each time a person shares a story, he or she will receive pesos. With these bills in hand, participants will be able to receive a discount in more than 40 small businesses in several towns and cities
The project emerges in response to the island’s more than decade-old debt crisis and the punitive austerity measures imposed by the U.S. government since 2016. It also calls attention to the fact that for almost all of its history Puerto Rico has been denied the right to create its own currency, and its economy has been organized to benefit other nations and states. By circulating locally-designed and conceived currency, the project provides an opportunity to consider the question of how Puerto Ricans themselves could create different conceptions of wealth. This project poses the question: what is a form of wealth that promotes values such as accessible education, a clean environment, creativity, self-governance, solidarity, food security and gender, labor, and racial equity?
The pesos of Puerto Rico feature athletes, activists, writers, and communities that have acted on their values to enrich peoples’ lives and in that way asserted that, “change is in our hands.” These include the Cordero siblings, Ramón Emeterio Betances, Luisa Capetillo, Julia de Burgos, Roberto Clemente, and the Caño Martín Peña community. By using a QR code on the back of the bill, interested users will be directed to the current website to learn more about the bills and the stories of the figures pictured on them. All collaborators of the project hope these inspiring stories will stimulate the exchange of a diversity of stories about the wealth and values of community.
In the era of virtual currency, such as BitCoin, the artists chose an “analogue” paper currency that can be passed hand-to-hand for the first phase of the project to promote community conversation and draw attention to the imaginative dimension of currency production. Unlike bills issued by the state, however, which are used to impose its authority through top-down forms of security, the locally produced pesos emphasize that security and authority truly originate in robust social relationships and acts of community solidarity.