Water, Empowerment & Art in Mexico

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IMG_3920Mexico, the land of the great muralistas Rivera, Siqueiros and Orozco, has recognized the power of public art since ancient times, when murals and sculptures on a grand scale featured prominently in civilizations like the Aztec, Maya and Olmec. Today, Mexican Muralismo continues in its traditional forms as well as contemporary manifestations like Graffiti and Street Art. The Artolution aims to utilize these vibrant genres as tools for social change, dialogue and education. To this end, Artolution co-directors Joel Bergner and Max Frieder have partnered with local community groups, schools, organizations and artists to facilitate public arts projects in various locations across the country.

Since 2012, they have organized initiatives in partnership with the local organizations Isla Urbana, which focuses on water issues, and the arts-based program ConcentrArte. Both of these incredible partners are under the umbrella of the Mexican organization IRRI, The International Renewable Resources Institute, which focuses on green technologies and sustainable development in low-income rural and urban communities.

IMG_6723In the mountains of Jalisco, Isla Urbana has addressed the catastrophic results of water shortages in traditional Huichol indigenous communities by installing dozens of “rainwater harvesting” systems and cisterns. To compliment this vital work, the Artolution partnered with local artists from ConcentrArte to facilitate educational workshops, mural making and the creation of a giant interactive musical sculpture made from recycled objects. This public sculpture, known as the “Foundstrument Soundstrument,” was created by local children and their families and remains in the village as a permanent percussion instrument. All the public art created with the community was informed by the spirituality, folklore and artistic traditions of the Huichol people, who are known internationally for their incredible beadwork and other crafts. The locals chose to prominently feature a blue deer with five snakes coming out of its mouth, which symbolizes their most sacred spirit, as well as other central features of their culture, such as the shaman and the psychedelic peyote cactus that they eat during their ceremonies. This remote community, which does not have electricity or running water, prides itself on maintaining its independence from mainstream Mexican society, and residents speak their own language and follow their traditional way of life. For this reason, outsiders are rarely welcomed in, and it was an honor for the Mexican and American members of the team to be included in the village life and ceremonies during their visits. The Huicholes are generous hosts who teach their guests a great deal about their worldview and way of life, which is radically distinct from the Western model. The collaborative relationship cultivated during this initiative reflects an important aspect of the Artolution philosophy: that these arts-based projects are true partnerships in which all participants are respected as equals and bring their knowledge, experience and energy to share with others toward a common set of goals.

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IMG_0378Another Artolution collaboration with ConcentrArte was a series of projects in the largest children’s hospital in Latin America, El Hospital Infantíl de Mexico in Mexico City. This initiative aims to bring joy to children who are suffering from cancer and other serious illnesses. It is a grim environment in which family members often sit all day at the bedsides of their beloved children as they suffer in pain and agony. Through the arts, these youngsters and their families have the opportunity to bond, put aside their suffering for a few precious moments, and build positive relationships with others in the hospital. ConcentrArte’s Liliana Riva Palacio visits every week in character as a hilarious magician who makes the children howl with laughter, while musician Santiago Salcido Madrid often joins her and the kids for joyous music sessions. Artolution’s Joel and Max have both joined in as well, facilitating painting, drawing and mural-making activities with the young patients and their family members. Through the arts, children have the opportunity to be children again, develop friendships with others and bond with their families.

IMG_0202 2In 2014, the Artolution partnered with ConcentrArte and Isla Urbana on many projects in central Mexico, traveling in the “Paz Paz Bus,” a former California school bus converted into a multi-purpose vehicle ready to deliver a range of social and creative services to remote and underserved communities. The team collaborated with the local graffiti collectives Muro Sur and Chimalhuacan Zequollas on community art projects, set up rainwater harvesting systems in areas suffering from a lack of water, worked with children to build a “foundstrument soundstrument” community percussion instrument made of recycled materials, and facilitated collaborative community mural projects that raised awareness for domestic violence, water conservation and other social issues.

The Artolution sends a huge ¡muchas gracias! to all the incredible children, community members, schools, artists and educators who worked hard to make this initiative a success! Special thanks to Liliana, Enrique, Santiago, Alex, Helene, Humza, Muro Sur, Zequollas and everyone at Isla Urbana, ConcentrArte, and IRRI!