CEASPA - The Kuna Children's Art Project (Kuna Yala, Panama)
The Kuna peoples live in Kuna Yala, a region of more than 365 islands and over 36,000 inhabitants. In the early 1990s, the Duiren Organization — made up of students and youth groups, agricultural groups, dance and theatre groups — and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute initiated a project of historical and cultural recovery of Kuna values. This process grew out of the methodological schools of CEASPA in the region along with the Kuna Yala Catholic Missionary Team, and was aimed at supporting an ecological project promoting community-based management of the natural resources — in particular, tropical rainforests and marine resources.The Children's Art Project was structured through workshops in drawing, murals, theatre, puppets, handicrafts, music, and dance. They involved Kuna and non-Kuna artists in developing the creative capacities of Kuna children to recover their cultural roots and to express the Kuna cosmovision, rooted in relationships with plants and animals in the region. The purposes of these workshops were to deepen the ecological and cultural consciousness of the children and to ensure that adults paid more attention to the youth and their potential. Workshops were facilitated in five communities by young adults in each community. Held over the period of five years, the interests of the workshops culminated in an annual arts festival in each of the five communities.“With the children and art, through culture and in defense of Mother Earth” (from the Third Kuna Children’s Art Festival)The experience served to promote Kuna cultural practices and develop skills, but it was not sufficiently documented or reflected upon. As part of the VIVA! Project, CEASPA staff along with former leaders of the project and the VIVA intern worked to recover this experience by interviewing artists, animators, and participants.In terms of the creative tensions of the VIVA project, one could see the dynamic of process/product as children developed self-esteem, artistic skills, and a greater social and environmental consciousness, while creating art. The children offered their own aesthetics, artistic work that reflected their perceptions. Cultural reclamation of Kuna values was central to the project, and its outcome included cultural reinventionthrough creative arts practices. The project also served to deepen peoples' political commitment while developing self-esteem — in other words, there was both personal and social transformation. One specific outcome was the greater participation of women; many who helped with the workshops have migrated to Panama City where they are now leaders of an Indigenous women's movement. There is a desire to build on this experience by developing art projects with Kuna youth (including some who were children involved in this project) in Panama City.