Art Resource Traditions: education and community development with indigenous arts

Art Education

Curricular development and teacher training with indigenous materials

It is difficult to have art classes if schools cannot afford to buy art materials. With a resource-based approach, the poorest of schoolchildren can enjoy art classes. With a little training and encouragement, teachers can take their children out into the countryside and collect different colors of clay, dirt, charcoal, lime, mineral oxides - red, yellow, brown, black, white, even green and blue - and prepare their own paints, sifting the colors and mixing them with water and egg or other binders. In many areas, hardware stores sell inexpensive mineral pigments for the construction trade, which can also be used. The students can paint with handmade brushes or even with their fingers. They can make craft items and decorate them; they can paint on cardboard or on walls; they can beautify their schools and neighborhoods with murals... all at little or no cost.

Arguably, public education is the most important of all areas in which these art resource methodologies can be applied, because so many other benefits flow out of that context. Students discover and develop their talents, sometimes continuing into vocations as artists or craftsmen. The learning experience is enriched and humanized, influencing the wider community in myriad ways.

The benefits of this approach have already been shown to dramatic effect in Honduras and some other parts of Central America and the Caribbean, largely through the efforts of the Latin American Art Resource Project. The approach adopted by LAARP was to develop teacher training aids and provide workshops to show how these art materials can be made and used in the classroom. Local artists and artisans also participate in the LAARP workshops, and the school is used as a springboard for a variety of community applications such as mural paintings with public health and environmental messages. With the help of volunteers and local collaborators, occasionally with support from international development agencies, these projects often take on a life of their own and continue to expand long after LAARP personnel go on to other areas. These methodologies are well suited to educational policy planning as well as grass-roots activities.

In Honduras, LAARP workers succeeded in creating a collaborative effort between the national teachers union, the national artists association, and the national ministries of education and culture, resulting in the adoption of a national curricular plan based on these art resource methodologies. This plan included guidelines for integrating art with the study of science (geology, basic chemistry, and color theory), Mesoamerican artistic and cultural history, and the appropriate use of natural resources. Through a variety of venues (teacher training schools, cultural centers, field projects) and sponsors (regional school districts, ministries of education and culture, international agencies) teachers and community leaders are trained to implement these curricula and methods. Field projects often include the participation of local artisans who have preserved the traditions on which art resource education is based. Students learn from the artisans, learn from them, and are inspired by their example. Local artisans also help students with community beautification and mural projects, which have become a particularly effective vehicle for making these practices personally and socially relevant.