Sometimes it is not utilized but it is always available. It can be one of the most powerful forces we can harness for change in our lives.
Understanding this fact and then utilizing our own creativity can be tremendously fulfilling. Helping people re engage with this part of themselves is what primarily my ArtLife workshops are all about. Making your Art is a powerful way to demonstrate the deep well of your own creativity. Of course it doesn’t have to be art; it can be your business, or anything actually that you are passionate about.
A few days ago I experienced one of the most dramatic examples of this.
It was the third day of our ArtLife workshop in Sayulita, Mexico. I had arranged an outing to a nearby fishing village to visit “Entreamigos”, a nonprofit community Arts center. I had heard it was many things – recycling center, part community educational center offering guidance in entrepreneurship, academic and business skills to the local population. I even heard it had a theatre circus school.
Upon arrival, I instantly realized it was much, much more than I imagined. The complex of revamped government factory buildings was bustling with young children. Adults, teenagers and parents were coming and going. There was a business computer area, a store full of handmade crafts. A juice bar and café area, a recycled clothing store, screen printing poster shop, woodshop, glass craft area, and a children’s brightly painted play area. In this converted government factory building an enormous tree towered above us made entirely from what looked like repurposed electrical plastic housing, cables and sheet metal.
In fact everything in this vibrant center was repurposed. The lights were made from egg cartons. The thousand shinning lights above the juice bar but turned out to be merely the cut off ends of recycled plastic soda bottles. The table of toys being sold were made entirely of found plastic one gallon containers, the walls and floors covered in colorful paintings, and the benches in the children’s play area was made from an old surfboard atop some old fishing crates. Everything, everywhere was found. Everything was at one time, trash.
Founded nearly 10 years ago by Nicole Swedlow, Entreamigos has become the third largest employer in this small town. Nicole explained how she came here on vacation 10 yrs. ago and fell in love with the people. She saw the influx of modernization, tourism, and knew of course it was not stoppable. Her biggest fear, what she witnessed happening was that the local people would in time become displaced, having no way to economically survive the skyrocketing land, food and housing costs. It was clear that the only possible answer was through some kind of education program. But how?
Not knowing any other way, she simply set a table outside on the street and offered to teach anyone passing by arts and crafts. In exchange she asked of them to teach some kind of Art or Craft too. In no short time this offering of new skills generated by the community began to grow. A building was found and with barely any outside money the same creative ask was utilized in the gigantic effort of constructing and organizing this space into a creative community center, the likes of which had never been done in Mexico.
She had two questions she asked of her growing community in regards to creating this new community canter. What do you desire? And, What can you do?
The first question was always answered easily. Perhaps a swimming pool in this community center or a library with picture books for all the children who had no possibility of going to school, or writing and reading classes…. everyone knew the answer to the first question.
The second question however always gave pause. At first those asked did not perceive they had very much to offer in exchange. But as Nicole energetically said, everyone has something to offer. We all are good at least one thing. Maybe someone only could only offer to make food, but that was helpful for another. Someone else knew a little about plumbing and another said she could help by watching the younger children while their parents contributed their time. It was in this way, a kind of crowd sourcing of skills all traded and leveraged within this tiny fishing community that led to the creation of Entreamigos.
Today this building has expanded into several. There is a scholarship program that is helping send the local children to school, and even on to college. There is entrepreneurial training, a thriving craft store, a incredible town wide recycling program, the first of its kind ever in this region, a computer business center, used clothing store and now thanks to a chance meeting with the founder of Cirque de Soleill, a full blown circus school!
The possibilities that have been cultivated mostly from the community of this small town are dizzying. Standing in the colorful center of this recycled place one mostly feels hopefulness. There is nothing purchased, nothing that you couldn’t buy or find for more than .69 cents back home, but somehow here in this setting where everything is placed and used with such intention, it feels incredibly inspiring. It is a world re purposed. It wasn’t just recreating the value of things found discarded along roadsides or dumped into the town’s river it was also about renewing and repurposing, re finding the dormant value of the local people.
Today, at Entreamigos, the gift of being taught something, anything that you do not know is still passed forward by teaching someone else something you do. Everyone, including Nicole, must be engaged in learning something from someone in the community whether it is learning to read, cook tamales or to just play a new sport. Then it is required that you teach someone else… offer a class or perhaps simply help a child to read. Entreamigos was born out of this simple idea and it continues to thrive today relying on this very same premise.
On the long bus ride back from this town I couldn’t help wonder how on Earth this extraordinary place had been accomplished, especially without any major financial resources. And then it hit me. All Nicole had was creativity. This was what she had used. The very same kind of thing that goes into making one’s art, the same kind of thing that can personally shift, enrich one’s own life had in this remarkable case has been leveraged to effect an entire town.
It left me feeling so hopeful and inspired. It also left me thinking about one question about myself, about those in need in my own community.
What helpful thing can I do?
A question that always seems too big, too complicated to answer. But now, it seems easily answered.
To learn more about Entreamigos, to visit or to help support please go to http://entreamigos.org.mx/
In gratitude, Nicholas