Arte Acción Copán Ruinas is closing its doors
By the end of 2010, the cultural association Arte Acción Copán Ruinas (formerly Copán Pinta) will cease to exist. After almost twelve years of art workshops, events, exhibitions and lots of fun in and around Copán Ruinas, we're going to call it quits. Some people already knew, for others it might come as a bit of a shock. If you want to know exactly why we’ll close shop, what our plans for the future are and what we'll do with our supplies, please read on!
For starters, there is, as you undoubtedly know, the financial crisis. It has hit us hard (especially in combination with the political situation here in Honduras) and as usual, cultural initiatives are the first to suffer. The tide might turn, but after all these years we’re a bit tired of the struggle and not knowing whether we'll be able to pay the rent by the end of each month.
Then there's the red tape. In order to continue our organization we'd either have to renew our legal contract with our partners in Tegucigalpa (of Arte Acción, who, by the way, will continue as usual) or start operating independently, both options implying a very slow, tedious and expensive process for which we don't have funding nor time.
On a more personal note, my job has changed a lot over the last few years. It is great to have a team around me and not being in charge of every little thing myself anymore, but in the last few years I've become more and more a director and much less an artist and teacher. Although I still like my job very much, I do wish I could spend more time on that other part of me that is also very important. And as much as I'll miss doing community work, I also feel I have something to contribute as an artist.
As for our achievements, Arte Acción Copán Ruinas has never been bigger and better! But we feel we have somehow reached our limits. To grow, which would be natural, would mean to become more professional in ways we do not necessarily aspire. We've always enjoyed our rather informal (though professional) work style and the close relationship with our target group and sponsors. We fear that getting bigger means more administrative responsibilities, more bureaucracy and less personal satisfaction and that's just not our ambition.
We've conducted thousands of workshops over the years and we could continue doing so till the end of our days. There'll always be lessons to be taught and kids willing to learn in a fun way. But why not stop here and now, now that we receive more appreciation from the community than ever. We’ve done some groundbreaking, fun projects; we've obtained overall acknowledgement for informal teaching methods and we have awakened in our students a curiosity and eagerness to express themselves. What more could we ask for? It's time for others to stand up and do what needs to be done.
Elsa Morales and Marlen Vásquez will continue
teaching about Maya culture in ten communities. The Saturday art workshop
will probably continue too, likely in collaboration with the public
library. Elsa and Marlen will also be involved in our pet” school
in the village of Santa Cruz where they''ll coordinate extracurricular
activities. Besides teaching, Elsa and Marlen also run a lucrative
sowing business together.
As for myself, I've plenty of plans, although none definite. I'll be busy enough the first few months writing up a very thorough evaluation of almost twelve years of Arte Acción Copán Ruinas. Then I'll stay around until at least July to coordinate the continuing activities and to focus on my own artistic projects. I hope I'll be able to make a living painting, designing and writing. One idea is to use my experience developing hands-on methodologies on a variety of topics to sell complete teaching methods to NGOs in the Central American region. After July I'll see, but my mind is sort of set on going to Spain … Closer to my roots and family in Holland, but not too close. It seems like the perfect go-between between Honduras and Holland. Who knows?
So, two more short months and Arte Acción
Copán Ruinas will be history. It's a bit sad, of course,
but at the same time I'm excited and confident about the future. I
also feel profoundly grateful for the experience and immensely proud
of my team. Some of them my former students, they are now terrific,
open minded instructors who have developed tremendously and who see
every difficulty as a challenge. I'm sure they’ll go very
Below the story of how it all began
Copán Ruinas is a small town in western Honduras, famous for the Maya ruins located nearby in the lush valley of Copán. It’s a pleasant place to stay with many hotels and good restaurants. Most visitors are charmed by the colonial and traditional ambience while enjoying the first class services the town has to offer.
For many visitors it comes as a surprise to hear that Copán Ruinas is one of the poorest municipalities in the country. You don’t have to travel far to see why. Only a few miles out of town, people, many of them belonging to the indigenous Maya Chortí tribe, live under miserable circumstances with incredible high rates of malnutrition and infant mortality. The illiteracy rate is 42% and the children who do attend school learn but the basics of writing and reading.
It is in this town that Copán Pinta, now known as Arte Acción Copán Ruinas, was born in May 1999. A group of painters organized a painting exhibition in the former high school at the central park. It was an event we didn't expect to be too successful, but to our surprise, over eight hundred people visited us during the two weeks of the exhibition and five hundred forty children joined in the art classes we offered. There was obviously a need for such activities, but alas, no funding to continue the program.
Then a small miracle happened: on the last day of the exhibition called Copán Pinta ("Copán paints") we received a $500 dollar donation. Enough to buy some easels, shelves and art supplies. The mayor was so friendly to lend us a classroom in the former high school and that’s how the Copán Pinta art school started. At first we taught formal art classes for which we charged a small tuition to children and adolescents from town. A few months later we started teaching art in eleven Maya Chortí communities to children who had never held a crayon in their hands before. The experience was amazing and inspiring. From that moment on, Copán Pinta shifted its goal from teaching formal art forms to a more socio-cultural program for the children who need it most.
Soon we didn’t teach just art but also drama, literature and workshops about the environment, social issues and children's rights, using a variety of disciplines and techniques. The program grew, as did the number of participants and Copán Pinta became an important institution in town, promoting the arts and the active participation of children in their community without ever charging our students.
In January 2002, Copán Pinta had to make way for a souvenir market in the former high school, so we moved to La Casa de Todo, only a block away from the central park. The new headquarters, located within a compound that houses a souvenir store, internet café and coffee shop, had it advantages: there is a huge backyard that was soon turned into a playground, with a small pool. There was enough space left over for a gazebo where we teach our classes and even a spot for a children's vegetable garden.
In 2005, Copán Pinta joined the cultural association Arte Acción from Tegucigalpa. The founders of this organization have been friends and supporters of Copán Pinta since the beginning and whenever possible we’ve been working together. The reason for the official fusion is the legalization of the project under Honduran law (in order to grow and expand) and to improve the exchange in artists and programs. So far the partnership has been very inspiring and will lead to many new projects and perspectives.
In September of 2005 we inaugurated our new office, just across the street from La Casa de Todo. Besides our library, administration department and meeting space, the office also had enough space for a small gallery, a video edit room, a dark room and a room for volunteers.
In January of 2008 we moved yet again, although not far. We left our beautiful playground at La Casa de Todo and took over both floors of our actual office. The reason? The gazebo at La Casa de Todo had become too small and insufficient for our many students and activities. We needed more proper workspace with real walls and doors that can be locked. Now we have everything together under one roof, including a small store where we sell our products that helps us to be more self-sustainable. The weekly Saturday workshops were conducted in the central park until July of 2008 when we stopped the project and instead stared offering art classes for a small group of girls in our library, our Girls in Action. Most of our classes are being taught at the rural schools, but our office is the heart of the organization where our staff members prepare and evaluate their workshops.