One Love: Art and the Global Landscape

Stephanie Kistner blogs for Arts for LA

 

A Peace Corps Volunteer’s Experience

Stephanie Kistner blogs about local arts & culture during her time in St. Vincent.

 

 

 

Can art improve lives? Can art be used to bridge cultural gaps? Can art be used as a catalyst for community development?

Having been involved in the arts since childhood, I presumed that I knew something of the value and importance that art plays in the shaping of a community; however, in St. Vincent I was able to witness firsthand how it can dramatically change people and improve their lives for the better. Over the two years that I was in St. Vincent I witnessed a village transform itself from a population that was lacking in cultural identity to one that is blossoming with community pride and a stronger sense of heritage, largely stemming from its revitalized participation in local arts.

St. Vincent, described and photographed by Stephanie KistnerFrom 2008 to 2010 I lived in a small fishing village adjacent to the Caribbean Sea. St. Vincent, an island so small it is undetectable on most world maps, became my second home. Music, dance, performance art and handicrafts: culture, are a way of life for countless on the island.

Unfortunately, many of the above mentioned traditions are dying out and are being replaced by contemporary American culture. Most of the youth on the island prefer playing video games to making crafts and would rather listen to hip hop than reggae. Rapper 50 cent is represented on more t-shirts than Bob Marley. As an American seeking to experience a new culture, I was disappointed.

I’ll give you all a little background on St. Vincent, assuming that you, like myself pre-2008, don’t know much about what’s been happening in the Caribbean. Prior to the mid-1990s bananas were the main export of St. Vincent. The banana industry virtually collapsed in the Caribbean after the North American Free Trade Act was signed in 1994. NAFTA eliminated preferential trade agreements and cut colonial ties, leaving the Caribbean islands to compete with Latin American farmers who can produce bananas at a lower cost.

With the loss of the banana trade many Caribbean nations mourned a way of life and a sense of identity. Due to limited resources and scarce educational opportunities high unemployment, gang warfare, marijuana farming and at-risk youth are major concerns for almost all Caribbean islands, St. Vincent included.

St. Vincent, described and photographed by Stephanie Kistner

Over the two years that I was in St. Vincent I became an educator, promoter, facilitator and advocate for more arts in the community. My goal was to get children and adults alike excited about their customs in order to preserve them for future generations. So much heritage and cultural identity was lost with the end of the banana trade, but that didn’t have to be the case. The end of the banana trade meant the end of an era, yes, but it didn’t have mean the end of Vincentian culture.

As a community developer I participated in a variety of projects ranging from organizing and facilitating banana-leaf handicraft workshops to rejuvenating the village’s annual Breadfruit Festival, a local celebration that focuses on highlighting Vincentian roots through performance art. Generations of Vincentians participated in these events, young and old alike, and for the first time in many years, they had something in common, their roots.

As an arts educator I designed and implemented a visual arts program that provided over 300 students with opportunities to experiment with the basics of design and color so that students could develop creative and critical thinking skills. I also hosted “Where Peace Lives,” a three-week summer art program and international mural exchange for 25 youth that promoted non-violent conflict resolution skills and cultural diversity through the visual arts.

Through various lessons I introduced my students to art from around the world. Students came away with higher levels of self-confidence, stronger communication abilities and a way of looking at the world a little bit differently. Students also developed a sense of pride in where they came from and embraced the uniquely Caribbean theme of “One Love,” a saying that they proudly displayed on the top of almost all their artwork.

So, can art improve lives? Can art be used to bridge cultural gaps? Can art be used as a catalyst for community development? Yes, I believe it can. I am happy to say that I left St. Vincent with a renewed confidence that Bob Marley was alive and well in the Caribbean. In the words of Bob Marley, and my students, "One Love."

St. Vincent, described and photographed by Stephanie Kistner

Stephanie Kistner is currently attending the Arts Management Program at Claremont Graduate University.  She is a Spring 2011 Arts for LA intern.

Strengthening Communities through Art

Such an inspiring story about the importance of art on the lives of children and the positive effect it can on a community. Well done, Stephanie!

Amazing Young Person Alert!

This is an incredible story of one young and very talented young lady who chose to follow her dream and helps the world become a better place becuase of her presence.  Find your passion, help others, feel good doing it. Love this. Keep up the good work Stephanie.