JFK University School of Holistic Studies
PROJECT: Article - Art & Ecology in Costa Rica__
Tropical Costa Rica is home to a wide range of unique species and virgin rain forests under serious threat. The economy depends primarily on tourism, but despite its extraordinary natural beauty, the southern Pacific zone of Costa Rica has been economically depressed for many decades and the citizens of the Punta Banco area have limited access to education and few work opportunities.
The CommunicArte Project, or CAP, is a month-long community-based art & ecology learning exchange developed in partnership with PRETOMA, a Costa Rican nonprofit marine conservation and research organization, and San Francisco State University. In 2008, CAP brought a group of 11 student/teaching-artists to the small, rural seaside village of Punta Banco to address pressing social and environmental issues through community-based art making.
Through collaborations with the local residents, schools, businesses, and an ever-shifting roster of global volunteers, CAP participants developed and implemented a series of workshops and ecology-based educational programs that were relevant to the community, and offered them free of charge.
Working directly with locals, the students learned the village of Punta Banco has no centralized fund for garbage removal. Families and businesses are responsible for their own refuse and recycling, which, being too costly to truck out, usually ends up being buried or burned on the beaches. This, in turn, creates a problem for the native endangered sea turtles, who return to these shores to nest and lay eggs. In short, the town’s trash is impacting its economic stability by directly contributing to the destruction of its own natural resources.
From a holistic perspective, the most pressing ecological issues could be simultaneously addressed through an integrated arts-based curriculum that dealt directly with this little town’s trash. To be sure, the connection between western capitalism, gross over-consumption, garbage, global warming, and shrinking bio-diversity is much larger than a few plastic bags in a small, remote village like Punta Banco. But, as practical, innovative, problem-solving artists, it was exciting for the students to realize that their own, simple, deliberate and focused actions could play a small part in healing the planet. “Be the change,” as they say.
During the month-long residency, the artists facilitated workshops and projects that fused art-making with ecological stewardship. These ranged from the specifically educational to the playful and resourceful. Through leadership and initiation, the families of Punta Banco created sea-turtle story-books and species lifecycle billboards; journals, maps, puppets, and masks; musical instruments and bottle-cap earrings; plastic-bag boas, costumes and décor. There was nothing that couldn’t be done with a recycled tetra pack! They created botanical mixed-media turtle compositions and an organic community vegetable garden(and compost!). They painted coconut garden-guardian heads, and a “Soil-to-Sea” mural on the school’s soccer field wall. The small world of Punta Banco became a limitless inspiration, providing an abundant supply of both natural and man-made materials.
Through this myriad of creative forms, the themes of ecological awareness, creative reuse and sustainability become vibrantly alive. Students happily worked through steamy rainstorms or tropical sunshine, facilitating workshops outside, in the classrooms, at tiendas, and by the sea, with both kids and grown-ups alike. On the final day in Punta Banco, they held a huge fiesta with a Puppet Teatré and a comprehensive exhibition of the children’s work. The garden was inaugurated with a jubilant Trash-Mash-Up Parade and together, with all of the community- from Tico to indigenous Guaymie-Tribe traveler; tourist, transplant and volunteer- they celebrated the month long adventure of creative art-making with music, dancing, face-painting and food.
The CAP participants sold most of the women’s hand-made jewelry to tourists during the Fiesta, and donated the proceeds to an ongoing trash removal fund. Many other artworks are still in the process of becoming postcards, calendars and even candy-bar wrappers- all to be sold to support continuing art and ecology exchange programs with the Punta Banco Community.
The CommunicArte Project provided teaching-artists-in-training the opportunity to make a positive impact on the environment, while learning and gaining cross-cultural, hands-on experience as educators and earning credits towards graduation.