San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Arts Project Explores Bribrí Heritage

MEMBERS of the indigenous communityin Yorkín, in the remote southeasternTalamanca region, are enjoying theopportunity to explore their cultural heritagethrough creative thinking, dramatechniques and interactive participation,thanks to the Art Works Project, a UnitedKingdom-based program for students whoplan – in their future careers – to use theperforming arts working with ethnic andindigenous people in the United Kingdomand overseas.In this tiny village of 15 families,members of all ages, including 49 school agechildren, are involved in storytelling,song, dance, improvisational theater andgames. This will provide the foundation fora dramatized presentation about the historyof the Bribrí people, their customs and traditions,as well as the challenges they facein terms of changes in their environmentand integration into present-day society.PROJECT director Caroline Kennedyis a journalist, author and former humanitarianworker now living in Costa Rica.She was involved in the first Art WorksProject, a collaborative effort betweenLondon’s Central School of Speech andDrama (CSSD) and the Parthenon Trust inthe United Kingdom.In 1997 she initiated an Art WorksProject in Azerbaijan, in southeasternEurope, using art and drama therapy programsin refugee camps. The program continuestoday as part of CSSD’s “CollaborativeOutreach” curriculum.“The Art Works Project in Yorkín ismutually beneficial to the indigenous communityand the overseas students,” Kennedysaid. “The beauty of it is that the successof each project cannot be predicted. Itdepends on the community, how they react,the way the students set it up and the individualand collective ideas that go into it.”She hopes this is the first of similarprojects with other indigenous groups inthe country, and that Costa Rica willbecome an ongoing part of the school’scurriculum.FOUR second-year drama students,Sarah Goodall, Christina Sammoutis,Olivia Simpson and Henry Timms, wereselected from a group of applicants for their high grades, commitment to the projectand knowledge of Spanish.Selina Busby, a CSSD drama professor,was here for a week to assist in thestartup and assess the beginning of thefour-week program.“The students are making excellentprogress and have established a good rapportwith the community in Yorkín,” shesaid. “The villagers are cooperative andextremely enthusiastic about exploringtheir traditions and documenting Bribríhistory, which has never been donebefore.”The students are living in the isolatedBribrí village of Yorkín, learning aboutthe community’s daily life, history, culture,traditions and values.“It’s a very peaceful place, and we aretotally immersed in what we are doing.It’s a 24/7 situation,” Goodall laughed.COMING from cosmopolitanLondon, adapting to life in this remotevillage – reached by dugout canoe – cancertainly induce a bit of culture shock.But these intrepid students seem to beenjoying every minute of the experience –though they all agreed they had to beimaginative about the food.“But we had a wonderful banana cakebaked especially for us, and the chocolatemade from the local crop of cacao is delicious,”Simpson said.Using participatory drama techniques,the students want to encourage the villagers,from their own perspectives, toshare past events, future hopes and fears,and to perform stories passed downthrough generations.The Bribrí believe their god Sibo createdthem from corn kernels. Writing abook about their creation story is part ofthe project. Working with all ages andspecific groups of women, children andelders using Participatory Learning andAction (PLA) – a guide for participatorycommunity development and empowerment– the students hope to enhance communication,team and leadership skillsand develop creative potential, while fosteringa sense of pride in the preservationof Bribrí heritage.“This is an extremely valuable sustainableproject,” Timms said. “We areworking with the older children to helpthem develop skills they can pass on tothe younger ones after we leave.” THE students say the primary-schoolteacher is a great storyteller, and theyhave established a wonderful relationshipwith the women, who are very open aboutthe structure of their matriarchal society.According to the students, the whole communityis contributing to the program andlooking forward to the final dramatic presentation:the Art Works Project in Yorkínis being filmed and will be made into ashort documentary that will be distributedto colleges, schools and libraries.“We hope to promote greater awarenessand understanding of Bribrí historyand culture, both in Costa Rica and overseas,”Kennedy said.She added that “without financialsupport and donations in kind, the ArtWorks Project would never have transpired.”Funding was received from theAvina Foundation, the Parthenon Trustand the United Nations Educational,Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO). The students financed theirairfares and room and board for the fourweeks in Yorkín, and Poás VolcanoLodge provided free accommodations foreverybody involved in the two-day orientationcourse.Those interested in helping with futureprojects or making donations to the ArtWorks Project can write Caroline Kennedyat

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