Art Resource Traditions: education and community development with indigenous arts

At-Risk Youth Projects

Neighborhood beautification responses to gang and graffiti problems

Numerous studies have shown that the arts provide a uniquely effective vehicle for social mediation and remediation. This is nowhere more evident than in work among at-risk youth. In Latin America as well as elsewhere around the world, at-risk youth tend to gravitate into neighborhood gangs that develop highly territorial habits, expressed most visibly in works of graffiti. A wealthy community might have the resources to suppress this kind of activity and to paint over existing graffiti, but a poor community has to work more creatively to redirect the energies of these youth. When at-risk youth are involved in designing and creating their own murals and wall decorations, they become protective of their achievements and increase their personal stake in the appearance of their neighborhood. They learn lessons in positive teamwork and improve their relations with local property owners. These lessons hold as true in urban shantytowns as in rural cacer’as, but are especially important in settings that are suffering the almost overwhelming consequences of urban migration. These urban problems are far beyond the reach of governmental and aid agencies and depend on community-based solutions, inadequate as they may seem.

The best way to intervene with at-risk sectors is as early as possible, as young as possible. To cite again the work of the Latin American Art Resource Project, liaisons were set up with numerous agencies that work with children, and a city-wide project was developed in Tegucigalpa in coordination with a national UNICEF campaign against familial abuse of children. Designs were developed by children throughout the country and then, with the help of LAARP staff and volunteers, adapted into mural projects by children in seven target communities. Some examples of these designs and murals are shown at the end of this section. Care was taken to separate these projects from the school-based mural projects mentioned in the previous section, in order not to disrupt the school groups. However, the at-risk project did employ teachers and artist assistants who were trained in the course of the school-based projects. Many of these trainees have subsequently gone on to undertake socially-oriented public art resource projects of their own initiative, demonstrating the principle that the art resource modus operandi need not depend on the expertise of one particular program. This is to say, the basic art resource approach is sufficiently close to the ambitions of the people involved and their cultural traditions, it tends to propagate naturally once its value and effectiveness is recognized.