Tuesday, August 6, 2013

People, Place and Art: From Permaculture to Mural

Kelly Finlaw
NOTE:  I have included this blog entry by Kelly Finlaw as an example of what happens when artists show up as part of sustainable development projects.  JNC
As an educator in the public school system, I am afforded extended vacation in the summer months. The New York City school calendar allows me to have all of July and August to spend however I so desire. In recent years, I have chosen to volunteer as an Artist-on-Call during July with BuildaBridge International. I have had the opportunity of teaching art in the sugar cane fields of the Dominican Republic, painting murals in the mountains of Colombia, and most recently, facilitating a permaculture course in the Negev Desert in Israel.

Permaculture aligns with an arts-relief and development organization like BuildaBridge, it embodies the values of Asset Based Community Development and Place-making that are so vital to creative sustainable development. The concept of Permaculture is an all-encompassing ideal that focuses directly on the land and the people inhabiting it.

For the month of July, I spent my time helping Bustan of the Negev facilitate a course that taught international students the basics of permaculture. We lived in a Bedoiun village in Israel where our housing unit had been built by the mud and clay of the desert soil. We were a completely self-sustained program; solar powered, gray water, recycled materials, composting unit. We were able to meet other needs by using businesses within the community. For example, we ordered pitas from a neighbor on a nightly basis and then went to pick them up just before dinner. We also used the women's kitchen to cook for us on evenings that we did not have the time to prepare our own meals. This presence within the neighborhood gave back to the community on a daily basis.

Working within this framework opens doors for relationships with the community, the kids, and the arts. It doesn't take long for people to realize that an art teacher might have some insight on how to fill blank white space on the wall, create a project for the kids in the neighborhood, or design lesson plans that incorporate the arts. It's a natural progression in any social setting. It comes with the territory.

In my time in Israel I was asked to paint a mural on one of the white walls within the village. I agreed, on the basis that I could paint the mural with the kids of the community. We organized materials, set up a time, informed families, created a design, and then we painted. In one day, we reclaimed white space with the story of the Bedouin People and The Spice Route. Kids, neighbors, and community members both participated and witnessed the event. The color and story transformed the space into a work of art. We could see the wall from the Permaculture Khan and would witness people stopping to observe the new mural days after we painted. Neighbors commented on the life and beauty that it brought to the entrance of the village, thanking us for the work that we did.

I didn't go to Israel with an objective of painting a mural. It happened because of the relationships that were built within the Permaculture class. It happened because I was trained by BuildaBridge on the specifics of art-making, relief work, and community building. It happened because I was taught to see with upside down eyes. It happened because I was taught to be present in anywhere and everywhere that I go.

It happened. And an entire community hopefully will feel more pride, attachment, and investment within their community.

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing story! It was encouraging to see that Kelly didn't come to the community with an agenda (to paint a mural). When you become a member of a community, others recognize your gifts and like in Kelly's case they ask you to share your gifts. It's great to see Kelly include the children and ultimately the entire community. This is a great example of the transformative power of the arts!