Written by: Stéphanie Keller-Busque
Today, I went to go pick up my passport from the Ministerio de Gobernación in Estelí after having my 90-day visa extended for another 90-day batch in order to keep living and working legally in Nicaragua. Walking out of their offices, I had to stop myself—have I already been with FUNARTE for three months? ¿Qué? It’s crazy to think about how much learning has happened in such little time and in so many different ways.
For those of you who spotted my previous blog post, you may already know that the team I work with at FUNARTE is in charge of two different projects, “Colores Primarios II” (Primary Colours II) and “Arte y Cambio” (Art and Change), and that I have yet to describe how I’ve been involved in the latter of these two for my internship. Entonces, allow me to finish the introduction! In contrast to Colores Primarios II which works with primary school teachers and counselors in the five municipalities surrounding Estelí (you can read my previous blog post for more information on this project), Arte y Cambio works in the three public high schools of urban Estelí to promote the development of a culture of peace and non-violence using art education. Being part of both of these projects has provided me with several opportunities to contrast differences in conditions of urban versus rural schools as well as primary versus secondary schools, and I have been able to draw similarities in the ways the two projects use artistic and creative expression to facilitate the advancement of children’s rights, psychosocial development, emotional intelligence, gender equality, and youth participation in society.
Since Arte y Cambio was launched in February 2012, the FUNARTE team has collaborated with students, teachers, counselors, directors, parents, partner organizations, and different social institutions such as the Ministry of Education and the local police force to develop spaces and capacities for students to promote a culture of peace through art. The existing challenges which students face in Estelí’s public high schools include large classroom sizes, insufficient classroom materials, adultist education, drug abuse, gangs, and absent family members. My FUNARTE team decided that Arte y Cambio’s first line of artistic business was to have students paint murals at the entrances of their schools so that the buildings conveyed messages of peace, inclusion, and creativity. The colours and designs of these murals have transformed school walls and benches that were formerly covered with tagging and chipped paint into inviting, dynamic spaces for learning.
Among the many artistic projects of Arte y Cambio, one initiative I have greatly enjoyed observing and participating in has been the barriles project: painting trash bins with students and placing them throughout the schools. Before getting out the paint and brushes, Rafa, one of the members of my FUNARTE team, facilitates discussions on how developing a culture of peace also means to live in harmony with the earth and that preserving our environment is a lifestyle that draws on positive values and attitudes. Students from all three high schools painted trash bins with frogs, flowers, butterflies, fish, bees, doves, and other animals to keep their schools clean and colourful and to represent their commitment to care for Nicaraguan wildlife.
The largest artistic piece that has come out of Arte y Cambio has been a massive sculpture made of recycled iron and paper mâché. For the first two months of my internship, I was accompanying Rafa to work with grade 8 students of the National Institute Francisco Luis Espinoza to create a 7.5 metre-long sculpture designed in an artistic and cultural exchange between Nicaragua and Guatemala. The sculpture is of two arms uniting in a Mayan handshake, representing the phrase, “Yo Soy Vos, Vos Soy Yo” (“I Am You, You Are Me”). Large benches are shaped into each forearm of the piece, which allow students to use the sculpture as a place for interaction, gathering, and sharing. During the entire process of creating the sculpture, students had the opportunity to reflect upon the significance of cooperation, of the mutual respect that exists between cultures, and of the different values practiced within a culture of peace. After painting and varnishing the sculpture, we held an inauguration ceremony where all grade 8 students, teachers, counselors, Ministry of Education representatives, the local police, and members of the press came to celebrate the students’ accomplishment. The event was a big success, and many of us were interviewed for the local news on television and two different radio stations to talk about the big day, including myself!
Just as in Colores Primarios II, teachers and counselors of the three participating high schools attend different FUNARTE workshops that share strategies and techniques on how to use art to advance a culture of peace and non-violence. I have participated in two of these workshops and have been incredibly impressed by the level of participation from the teachers in both the reflective and artistic activities. Teachers get just as excited as their students to get their hands on paintbrushes and to mix colours, and they present their pieces to their colleagues with the same pride and sense of accomplishment. We have held fascinating discussions on what it is to be a child, how to use assertive communication in the classroom, and it is obvious from the energy generated during the workshops that the participating teachers enjoy developing their skills as educators using FUNARTE methodology.
There are many, many more elements of Arte y Cambio to talk about, but I will stop myself now and keep more stories for later on! I have been learning from all actors involved in Arte y Cambio and feel incredibly inspired from my participation in this project. Through art, FUNARTE truly has been able to develop a culture of peace and non-violence with, for, and by students. Their vision for Nicaraguan society embodies the idea that ecologist David Orr puts forth as we look towards the future of education; that “The limits are no longer technological or even economic, but those of imagination and commitment.”
¡Dale pues! More stories on Arte y Cambio will come soon!