Oaxaca & a Few Thoughts on Art & Community

Vacation in Oaxaca

I believe art has a vital role in developing healthy communities. To illustrate the relationship between the arts and community I am sharing a bit about a past vacation, by doing so I hope to highlight the connection between art and community development.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of vacationing in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Oaxaca is a beautiful city in southern Mexico, known for its food and its vibrant art scene. Oaxaca’s creative culture was one of the primary reasons why I chose to visit this city.

Economics and Art

Often the arts are dismissed as a luxury, but the arts are linked to the economic vitality of communities. Deciding to visit Oaxaca was based in a large part on the arts and cultural. I know that not everyone visits locations for arts and culture, but for many this is a draw.  Beyond that, other business prospers when there is an active art scene and retail and restaurants often show increase in sales around art events.  The arts positively impact the economy of a community.

Mujeres Artesanas de las Regiones de Oaxaca

Prior to my trip I had read about Mujeres Artesanas de las Regiones de Oaxaca (MARO), a women’s art collective in Oaxaca, and knew that I had to visit the shop.  MARO provides women artist with a way to sell their art and crafts, sharing the cost and responsibilities of running a store and supporting one another in artistic work (I have even read that the collective shares child care responsibilities).

MARO’s shop is an explosion of color and offers everything from bottle caps turned into magnets to landscape paintings. There are traditional crafts, like rugs and metal work, along with recycled materials turned into colorful shopping bags. And everywhere, in every medium there are images of Frida Kahlo.

Cultural Expression and Art

This artist collective is an example of how art can be used to express and share culture.  MARO provides skilled artisans with a way to continue to practice a traditional craft while making an income, thereby keeping cultural heritage alive.  In MARO you can find traditional hand woven rugs still made with natural dyes created from ground up insects. Visiting MARO provides the visitor in a colorful tutorial of the culture of Oaxaca.  MARO is also a wonderful example of how the arts can be used to create social connections, after all this is a collective of women artists who work to support one another.

Dancin’ Queen

One evening my husband and I found ourselves in a small club full of locals, a live band squeezed into a corner and tables and chairs pushed to the wall to make space for dancing.  We watched a fellow dancing with several women, he danced well and as I feared, before too long he asked me to dance. I tried to resist, knowing I would not be able to follow his footwork, but soon found myself on the dance floor. I think I did more laughing and tripping then dancing! Later he and his friends joined my husband and I, buying us drinks and drawing a map of sites we should see during our stay.  Though our communication was limited, his English was fair and my Spanish is poor, we had a wonderful time.

Communication and Art

I think this experience is a great example of how art can help bring us together for a shared experience no matter what our barriers may be.  Here, there were language barriers and cultural differences but through music and dance (and it is hard for me to call what I did dance) we were able to share an experience, build rapport, exchange information and leave having a positive memorable experience with someone who I may never have had opportunity to interact with otherwise.

Final Thoughts

As much as I enjoy reliving my trip to Oaxaca what I hope you will take from this is an understanding of how fundamental art is to our lives.  Art is a part of who we are as individuals, communities, cultures and countries. Art connects us and helps us to build relationships, share ideas, and strengthen our communities.  Once we understand how integral art is to our lives we can begin to explore how we can use the arts to create stronger, healthier communities.

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