The fixed notion of Community Art is elusive, and yet, community art has been around for centuries. Artists are intrinsically drawn to the world they live in, and for many that means not only viewing but participating in it. As I start my personal journey with Community Art, I intend to find out what exactly it means, how exactly it can be defined, so I can help spread this creative fervor and transform the general public into the creatively passionate.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The First Step

It's about time for me to mention the woman who first introduced me to the world of Community Art: Claudia Bernardi. I've already alluded to her once or twice because, as the woman who opened this world to me, she often comes to mind when I think about it.

I first met Claudia in my sophomore year of college. She was designing a ten day spring break trip to El Salvador to do art. Being an artist, mildly fluent in Spanish, and country-bound since the time I was five, this idea naturally appealed to me. In the months leading up to our trip I, along with the rest of my fellow travelers, read books about the history of El Salvador and its neighboring countries, particularly about the many civil wars and the massacre of El Mozote. This heavy material was interspersed with language studying and descriptions of the projects that we were going to do.

For the actual trip we went out into the mountains of Morazon, El Salvador to a little town called Perquin. Claudia had already been there several times, starting an art school that then grew into its own self-supported organization. The telephone poles of the town, which in the rest of El Salvador were constantly changing between the colors of the two strongly divided political parties, were decorated with landscape scenes painted by the local children. Murals turned up around every corner, as colorful, frequent, and pleasing as spring flowers. The town center held a spectacular double sided mural on a stage-like area were children and town members would sit throughout the day.

During our stay, we went to a local community called 10 de enero (10th of January) and had the honor of adding to this beautiful collection of murals, painting on the wall of the cinder-block, one-room library which housed a single bookcase. The content was decided by the community members, the design approved by them, and the artwork partially created by them. Our role was that of artistically trained tools, coming to show our support, interest in, and willingness to help the community that already existed there. Children came to paint a mural on canvas inside and the telephone poles outside while their parents and grandparents came to help or watch us paint. Despite the language and cultural barriers, the members of the community were conversing with us as we all collaborated to create what turned into a beautiful mural.

Our time in El Salavdor also found us visiting neighboring towns, going to El Mozote, and to museums which held artifacts from the civil war that had ended only sixteen years previously. Everywhere we went there was art. Colorful, vibrant murals paved our path through the mountains of Morazon and back to San Salvador, the capital, enlivening the communities with their constant, cheerful presence.

When we returned to the States, I immediately noticed the absence of these colors and the lively community that they embodied. Having already seen the possibilities, power, and uses of communally made art in El Salvador, I knew that creating the same sense of connection was something I could dedicate my life to as I finished my degree and moved into life beyond.

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