Art Resource Traditions: education and community development with indigenous arts

Neighborhood Beautification

Community and school-based projects with local materials

In another section, we mentioned the creation of community murals by Honduran children in the course of some educational projects pioneered by the Latin American Art Resource Project. All these murals were produced with colors extracted from the earth and other mineral pigments used by the local construction trades to mix into cement floors and tiles. Mural themes have included environmental, cultural and social concerns, but in some cases they have been designed just to serve decorative, embellishing, or beautifying purposes. Numerous studies have demonstrated the relationship between the attractiveness of a neighborhood and its economic and social health. Failing government or citizen intervention, an ugly, trashy neighborhood will tend to become increasingly unfit for habitation. Crime and vandalism increase, and people eventually become prisoners in their own homes. The esthetic health of a community is not just a cosmetic matter. It is intimately tied to its social and economic structure, which both affects and is affected by the attitudes and initiatives of its citizen stakeholders.

In a poor community, of course, a key concern is the cost of improving its appearance. The problem of cost is effectively addressed by the art resource approach described in these pages. Although most of our examples are drawn from poor communities in Central America, similar concerns and considerations apply throughout the developing world, where similar practices have evolved almost universally. In Central America, there exists a very old tradition of decorating campesino adobe homes with native earth colors. The LAARP program has worked extensively to document this tradition and show how it can be applied to beautify communities in urban as well as rural areas. Working with schools and community members, the LAARP staff helps participants choose sites and develop designs to apply to those sites. Participants are trained in basic technical aspects of preparing paints and the surfaces on which it is applied, as well as the repair of areas that might become defaced in the course of time. In some cases, participants create surprisingly ambitious mural projects, but their approach is significantly different than that of public art projects in the more industrialized countries, in which professional artists are usually engaged to execute permanent artworks. People in poor countries recognize that very little in life is permanent, and their folk art traditions assume that whatever is created will have to be periodically repaired or repainted by ordinary friends and neighbors. It is in fact a more realistic and resilient approach than we find in elite culture.

In this section, we showcase several examples of urban neighborhood beautification created in the course of LAARP projects in Central and South America. In the next section, we will look specifically at the melding of community art with social concerns among at-risk youth.