In 2013, Meridian partnered with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) to send mural artists abroad for the Community Engagement through the Mural Arts exchange program. While away, these artists were able to collaborate with local groups and artists in various community- based mural arts projects. Their goal: to create tangible pieces of artwork, while simultaneously fostering community engagement with the various populations of each country.
Since November 2014, Meridian has sent four artists to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Colombia. And the results have been staggering. From the time of its inception, the program has produced 18 murals and paintings in 10 cities and in 4 countries.
Christine Kuhn was the first of four muralists to travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During her month-long visit, she, with the help of Culture + and the Bukavu Youth Action Center, painted a total of five pieces – four murals and one large-scale painting. Working with many groups, including student artists at the Académie des Beaux-Arts and girls from a local orphanage in Kinshasa, Kuhn designed and painted several murals highlighting the themes of women’s empowerment, Congolese culture, and the future of the Congo.
In January of 2015, Paul Santoleri, an artist based in Philadelphia, traveled to Nicaragua. There, he worked with the at-risk youth of Bluefields, Chinandega, El Viejo, León, and Managua, with Jóvenes por el Diálogo, and with other local community members and artists to help produce his works. By the end of his exchange, he oversaw the design of seven different murals addressing themes on youth, community, and the environment.
Then in March and April, Michelle Angela Ortiz of Philadelphia worked with residents of the 21 de Febrero and the Estados Unidos neighborhoods of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Partnering with Alianza Joven – USAID, Ortiz completed two murals with help from four Honduran artists, who she trained in her mural painting and community engagement techniques, and local youth. Ortiz was concerned with depicting the various issues facing each community, such as the topics of youth empowerment, climate change, and security, and saw a great change in participating youth, who hope to bring more projects into their neighborhoods.
Most recently, Augustina Droze was sent to Cali, Colombia, for three weeks in June. During her time there, she was able to create four separate murals celebrating nature, women, and youth. Droze worked closely with the Centro Cultural Colombo Americano (CCCA) and other local artists and volunteers. Additionally, she led multiple workshops on the importance of art and its ability to foster positive changes in communities.
What has made this mural exchanges project so successful? The community. These murals have truly become something beyond tangible representation. They have become vestiges of collaboration, of participation, of interaction, and of community. They are meant to be shared with and by everyone.
Stay tuned for updates on the next set of exchanges to Brazil, Cuba, India, and Turkey, starting this fall, by following us on Twitter: #muralarts.