Art Resource Traditions: education and community development with indigenous arts

Eco-Cultural Tourism

Promoting and employing indigenous art traditions to attract tourism

The section on environmental policy discusses the relationship between artisans, environmental management, and cultural or ecological tourism in the host country. Tourists buy souvenirs ranging from trinkets to paintings, which provide important economic support to local artists and artisans. This support is all the more significant when it helps to make their traditional ways of life sustainable, which in turn helps conserve the local ecology.

To round out our discussion, we return to our study of artisan and natural resources in the zones surrounding the R’o Pl‡tano Biosphere, which ranges from tropical lagoon and rain forest to savannah and montane cloud forest, encompassing five different indigenous and mestizo cultures: Tawahka, Pech, Miskito, Gar’funa, and Ladino. Each of these cultures is fascinating in its own right, with its own distinct artistic traditions. In previous sections of this site we have mentioned the economic benefits that artists and artisans could derive from helping teach workshops in the context of public education. This also applies to the context of tourism, and many of the recommendations made by William Swetcharnik turned on making arts and craft instruction available to tourists. It can provide a wonderful opportunity for visitors to learn about the culture as well as support the local economy, with the additional benefit of expanding the market for local products when the tourists return home, full of enthusiasm for the culture they visited. For example, the coastal Caribbean Gar’funas are a mixed culture of escaped African slaves and indigenous Arawak Indians, and they retain many traits of both ancestries in their dance, rhythms, rituals, and material culture. For the Gar’funas, a yucca sieve signifies much more than a utilitarian object: it is intimately associated with myriad mythic associations. But it is also a beautiful object, and the different weaving patterns of the balaire plant can turn them into real objects of art. Imagine if you will, a group of tourists having the opportunity to make a variety of practical/ritual implements and then see their teacher participate in an eight-hour ceremony using these objects. Call it cultural exploitation if you will, but if the Gar’funa continue to lose their fishing grounds on one hand and their yucca farms on the other, there will be no more distinct Gar’funa culture in thirty years.

In Honduras, another important tourist attraction is the beautiful decorations painted with local colors by campesinos on their adobe houses, a tradition that LAARP has widely documented and attempted to revive. The towns where this tradition is being revived are among the loveliest places imaginable, and LAARP has also worked with local artisans to advertise their products with murals hand-painted with the same local colors. In the Mosquitia region of the Bi—sfera R’o Pl‡tano, LAARP trainees have worked with local schools to create murals depicting the endangered species that must be preserved in order to sustain tourism and a healthy environment. One of the best hopes for local artisans consists in "virtual" tourism (which in a sense the visitor to this site is doing) and in the Web-based marketing of artisan products. Although neither this Website and its sister site for the Latin American Art Resource Project are designed to serve as marketing vehicles, we do hope eventually to showcase the work of accomplished artists and artisans whose work make use of indigenous resources.