Since 2009, EcoLogic has welcomed ArtCorps Artists to our project sites in Guatemala and Honduras. Professional artists volunteer as ArtCorps Artists for one to two years to support the environmental, health and human rights initiatives of nonprofit organizations in Central America. Says Clare Dowd, Executive Director of ArtCorps,“At EcoLogic there is a real understanding of how to ignite change from the ground up, as well as a commitment to work at the community level, which mirrors our own approach. To us EcoLogic is an ideal partner.”
ArtCorps Artist, Andrea Shigeko Landin, was born and raised in Los Angeles, and graduated from Oberlin College and Conservatory in 2010 earning degrees in anthropology and cello performance. During her undergraduate years she also studied Spanish and spent a semester in Guatemala where she did research on the community radio movement. Wanting to return and engage more deeply in community work, Andrea applied for an ArtCorps fellowship position. In January 2011 she journeyed to Guatemala to begin her year with EcoLogic and local partner organization, 48 Cantones, in support of our joint initiative to conserve the 52,000-acre old-growth forest of Totonicapán. Andrea spoke with EcoLogic Communications Officer Lee Shane in October 2011.
What is the focus of your fellowship?
My job is to use art to work with youth on issues of environmental conservation with a focus on ancestral practices. The Quiché of Totonicapán have a rich history of environmental stewardship, and it’s a society-wide commitment. As an example, everyone volunteers their time to plant trees to help the forest and they’ve been doing this for generations. Groups of students, church groups and families go out to plant seeds and seedlings during the “season of reforestation,”–it actually has that name from long ago.
Tell me about how your youth groups, what are they learning?
We take walks in the forest and I ask them to lie on their backs and listen–identify the sounds and rhythms. Other times we’ve gone to write poetry there, and to sketch. The last time we went one girl exclaimed, “Oh, Andrea, I’ve never realized that every tree smells differently!” It doesn’t mean she’ll immediately go out and plant more trees, but seeing the uniqueness of each tree and its value raises their appreciation for nature.
In August, we participated in a lot of Semana Verde (“Green Week”) activities. The theater group built a giant serpent puppet which represented Ajaw, the Mayan water spirit. The kids really noticed how the puppet and skit got people to talk and react in ways a pamphlet or a speech doesn’t.
What other activities are you doing?
For Semana Verde we had an art and poetry contest. There were eight schools with at least 250 kids participating. Forty finalists had their work shown in an exhibit, and the winners–three in drawing and three in poetry–got certificates and art supplies. It was very popular with the whole community, and many families came to see the art. We will also be collaborating with a local painter and painting murals in Totonicapán later in the year, and there will be more performances for the community and also for the governing groups such as 48 Cantones.
What has your experience been like working with EcoLogic?
Each ArtCorps artist has a “counterpart” in our host organization, and mine, EcoLogic Field Technician Fernando Recancoj, has been my rock! From the start he explained how the Quiché governing structures worked, helped me find housing and things I needed, helped me make connections. He made a big difference with communications with the men of the 48 Cantones. Fernando attended meetings with me and wouldn’t tell me what to say, but he made suggestions and observations. Even now, every idea I have, I discuss with him. And he’s always made it clear he cares about my work and me as a person. When the ArtCorps Artists got together at our mid-year retreat in June, everybody agreed I had the best counterpart!
What will you take away from your time here?
It’s changed my life. On the personal level in thinking of myself as an artist, that role is central to my identity, not one piece. I’ve also learned so much about life and people. Before I got to Totonicapán I didn’t have much of an environmental background, and now I have knowledge of ecosystems and nature, and especially how community collaboration relates to environmental conservation. If care for the environment is community based, people feel a commitment that grows from their investment in the community. I intend to do more work like this in the future, and I’m sure I’ll return again to Totonicapán. It’s a part of me now.
Andrea Shigeko Landin was recently awarded an Abreu Fellowship from the New England Conservatory to help spread the El Sistema global movement that transforms the lives of children through music.
Tags: 48 Cantones, Andrea Shigeko Landin, Art for Social Action, art for social change, ArtCorps, conservation, creativity, Ecologic Development Fund, environmental education, forest, Guatemala, indigenous, inspiration, leadership, music, natural resources, partnership, poetry, stewardship, Totonicapan, Youth