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Art Across the Americas: An Exchange Program Comes Full Circle

In the summer of 2008, an exchange program whisked a group of Bloomington students off to a village in Guatemala to paint a mural.


For the first two weeks of July 2009, the other half of the Art Across the Americas vision took shape.

At a site along the new multi-use trail that winds through downtown Bloomington, the students from San Juan la Laguna worked alongside Bloomington students to create a large colorful mural showcasing important landmarks from both hometowns.

Such august monuments as the Monroe County Courthouse and the Mayan pyramids are juxtaposed with other far more humble, though still beloved locations-from a Guatemalan tienda where tortillas are sold, to the beloved ice cream joint known as the Chocolate Moose.

Roads and waterways wind through the magical landscape that blends the two worlds a continent apart.

Bloomington art teacher Sarah Irvine coordinated the mural's design and execution. Irvine, along with Art Across the Americas co-director Gracia Valliant, conceived of the program and led the Bloomington students to the Mayan village of San Juan la Laguna in the summer of 2008.

Irvine and Valliant incorporated the young people into every level of trip organization, fund raising, and art-making.

It's clear that the international collaboration that has brought two worlds closer together has its root in the one-on-one relationships that it has forged, even in the face of the occasional language barrier.

Some Guatemalan students, for whom this was the first time in the US, expressed their appreciation for the level of safety they perceived in Bloomington, and the sense of respect residents had for the city.

Several of the visitors hoped to return here.

Their Indiana counterparts shared their own passion for undertaking similar programs with young people in the future.As the students created the mural, passersby added their own imprimaturs to the piece, quite literally, by sticking a thumb in paint and pressing it into the mural's yellow border, then making personal embellishments around their thumbprint.

The result is a menagerie of characters representing the community, from pole vaulters to dragons.

Mounted on the back of a building on Bloomington's B-line trail, just west of Morton Street between Fifth and Sixth, the mural is already making a big impression.

On a recent Saturday, shoppers en route to the Farmers' Market paused to admire the new addition to the pedestrian landscape.

From a purely formal standpoint, one would have to admit that the mural's design is strong, the colors well distributed and the drawing, full of whimsy.

Considering the two-year international collaboration between some very energetic, and open-minded young people that lies at the heart of the project, however, the whole is definitely far more than the sum of its parts.

Listen to WFIU's Yael Ksanders first installment of Art Across the Americas.

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