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Art & Earth with ArtCorps: How Creativity can Shape the Environment

EcoLogic is always looking for ways to expand our toolbox of practices and techniques that inspire the active participation of rural communities is conservation. And we’re also always looking for ways to connect our partners to the skills and expertise of other groups that can add value to our collective work. EcoLogic’s relationship with ArtCorps is a perfect example of both of these efforts. This past month, EcoLogic and ArtCorps combined forces once again to conduct a hands-on workshop with teachers in Totonicapán, Guatemala. A key component of our initiative in Totonicapán is working with our local partner, the Association of Communal Mayors of the 48 Cantones, to preserve indigenous Maya K’iche’ knowledge and beliefs around forest protection—beliefs which have enabled the K’iche’ communities of Totonicapán to effectively protect over 50,000 acres of forest for the past 800 years—and making sure that that knowledge passes down to younger generations. To achieve this, we use several techniques, including leveraging the expertise of ArtCorps!

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ArtCorps workshop participants showing off their colorful designs and talking about conservation in Totonicapán, Guatemala (Photo Credit: Mario Ardany de León Benitéz).

ArtsCorps is a non-profit arts education organization dedicated to developing creative habits of mind in young people. EcoLogic and ArtCorps are old friends, having worked together in both Honduras and Guatemala. In 2012, we jointly released a children’s book of stories and pictures related to environmental stewardship created by indigenous children of Totonicapán. This time around, ArtCorps held a three-day workshop to train teachers in arts-based methods for building leadership, transferring knowledge, and inspiring creative action for positive behavior change related to environmental protection. ArtCorps, in collaboration with EcoLogic and our local partner, agreed to train teachers from 18 different primary and middle schools in the region. Teachers are a critical population to equip: they have a captive, eager audience in the classroom; they can influence a large number of students; and they can utilize the techniques for years to come.

Once teachers are trained by ArtCorps, EcoLogic assists them in identifying how to apply those skills so that children understand and become inspired to maintain their unique cultural heritage which is so tightly linked to nature and its protection.

After a series of ice-breakers and creative introductions, a key activity of the workshop was to collectively design a giant tree that represents their community. The roots represent people’s dependency on nature. The trunk represents the current state of natural resources and their threats and challenges. The branches represent the skills, knowledge, and talents that community members have. And the leaves represent ideas for how to apply those skills and talents in ways that address the identified challenges. As EcoLogic’s Regional Program Director, Gabriela González, expressed “the tree model was an incredibly effective way for the teachers to reflect upon and analyze issues and solutions.” And this model can be replicated in the classroom quite easily because it is so interactive, creative, and colorful.

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Three workshop participants getting creative (Photo Credit: Mario Ardany de León Benitéz).

Many of the teachers approached EcoLogic staff after the workshop—freshly inspired and humming with ideas—and shared their interest in expanding our reforestation program in Totonicapán. Over the past 8 years, EcoLogic and the 48 Cantones have organized and trained community members to reforest over 500,000 trees! But there is certainly more that can be done. It was great to hear the interest and drive amongst the teachers. They also urged us to replicate the workshop in other communities in the area because so many more schools would benefit from the tools they gained. Moving forward, we are particularly excited to see the teachers apply their new skills in the classroom, and to see what kind of new solutions and recommendations the students come up with as well!

(EcoLogic’s work in Totonicapán is generously supported by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act Program, the Putnam Foundation, Full Circle Fund, and EcoLogic’s broad donor community.)

 

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