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From a House to no Walls A Comparative Study of Two Great Arts-Based Community Projects By Pedro Sorto



My personal interests, and the responsibility to my country and its development have lead me to get very interested in an organization named Walls of Hope. This organization is an art school and open studio situated in Perquín, a small town in the department of Morazán, El Salvador. Among its objectives, the school tries to empower the citizens of the town and generating new sources of jobs and education by the insertion of art as a constant presence in their community. It was funded by Claudia Bernardi and directed by artists/teachers. Bernardi is an internationally renown artist and educator who works in the fields of human rights and social justice and who has exhibited her work in over 40 solo exhibitions. She has influenced thousands of people with her integrity, compassion, and truthfulness. Her labor has been expanded to other countries like Colombia and Guatemala. Studying this school, it came to my mind another inspirational initiative created by Jane Addams and Ellen Starr: the Hull House. In the nineteenth century, this wonderful project was created to help the community of the Nineteenth Ward of Chicago, a neighborhood living in inhumane conditions that resulted from industrialized poverty. Hull House brought together a community that possessed different cultural heritages. Addams’ belief on art’s unifying power was a key point on reaching this goal. My interest stems from the success these schools have had on gathering two very different communities divided by ideologies and cultures, and the international extension and attention acquired. My personal contact with community-based art education programs is not extensive, but I have been becoming aware of their power to build communities and my interest on this type of art education has been increased. My research goals will be to find differences and similarities in this two projects in order to have a general idea of how new alike projects should be handled, to be aware of the potential obstacles imposed in their developments, and to promote and celebrate their existence (especially that of Walls of Hope). By means of interviews (by telephone and email) and contacts with Bernardi, we would have a closer view of their experiences, which would provide important insights to understand the events.



JANE ADDAMS AND THE HULL HOUSE JANE ADDAMS Jane Addams was a social activist who, along with Ellen gates Starr, founded Hull House, one of the first settlement houses in the United States. She was also a writer, a philosopher, and a pacifist, and by all of her effort, she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931. Hull House was open in the nineteenth ward of Chicago in September 1889. It was settled in a neighborhood of immigrant families from different countries, who lived in inhumane conditions due to the industrialized poverty. Hull House was a center of culture, advocacy, and education in a time when there were no public social Jane Addams

programs were addressed to help immigrants or

people living in poverty. Addams started working with a group of middle-class women concerned with the well being of children. Addam’s work was distinctive and groundbreaking. She did not work motivated by charity, or a need for being a missionary, she lived and worked with, not for, the people in the neighborhood (Griffith, 2009). In her writings, Addams addressed injustices of her time and advocated for democracy. According to her biographer, Katherine Joslin, “over the twenty years between 1910 and 1930, [Addams] came to see art and the possibilities of imagination as hopefully as she had seen society and the possibilities of the intellect in her relative youth” (Joslin, 2004). 1

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Addams made a connection between imagination and building world community. She did not agree with the thinking that art and entertainment are only means of escape. She expected much from the arts, imagination, and people (Griffith, 2009). Addams believed that communities emerged from all their members, their unique talents and existences created a vibrant social life (Deegan, 2010). THE IDEA OF HULL HOUSE After her graduation in 1881, she started to think on what she would do with her life. She was not sure what to do. From her experiences traveling through Europe, she became aware of the horrible situation that poor and low-paid working people lived in some cities of England, Germany, and others. She knew that there were other women like herself with plenty of money and free time but no real sense of purpose. She wondered if these two different groups could understand each other (Sammartino, 1993). THE PROJECT On September 18, 1889, Hull-House opened its doors in the heart of Chicago’s west side. Men, women, and children of all ages and ethnicities came to Hull-House. Italian, Polish, German, Irish, and Russian immigrants stopped in. Hull-House grew and spread until in time it came to be a kind of community center for the whole of Chicago, when nearly 2,000 people crossed through its doors every day2. Addams especially wanted to help the children. A kindergarten was organized with the help of a volunteer, Jenny Dow. In less than a month, twenty-four children attended the kindergarten, and many others were on the waiting list. Clubs for older girls and boys, and young working men and women, were implemented as well. Older people in the neighborhood had problems too. They were lonely, sick, and unable to work. On January 1st, 1890, Hull House held a party just for them. The event was so successful that became an annual event.


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The first idea for the House was not a settlement place, but an art gallery. The first addition to the building was that, an art gallery. They also had a library. Hull House provided the neighbors with a place and time to spare, to find some beauty in their lives. The value of the pieces exhibited was determined by the contribution to beauty and the escape it offered “from dreary reality into the realm of the imagination.” After the gallery, a studio was created. From the results of the studio was obtained through the classes of young men engaged in the commercial arts (Addams, 1910). From the beginning, Hull House had classes in music; the Hull-House Music School was opened in 1893. “Music is perhaps the most potent agent for making the universal appeal and inducing men to forget their differences” (Addams, 1910). The project had art as its center in three places: the Butler Art gallery, the ongoing studio classes, and the Labor Museum. The objective of these was looking for the people’s needs in which art could help. From that, Addams turn into the crafts skills neighbor had to perpetuate them. She had the “desire to reveal the humbler immigrant parents to their own children” (Addams, 1990). The ideas of Hull House of how art could be meaningful in the lives if the neighborhood were: loaning art from the Art Institute of Chicago for the people to appreciate it, offering people the opportunities to actually paint, draw, and make prints, and the presence of the Labor Museum, which displayed the work from traditional skills of the neighbors. At the Labor Museum, people not just showed their skills on rug hooking, spinning, and basket making, but also sold the products of their labors. They showed who they were. Their crafts became the means of appreciating other people. Hull House developed art-making programs sensitive to differences, which could help people understand each others (Brown & Korzenik, 1993). In addition to making services available for the immigrant population of the neighborhood, Hull House afforded young social workers an opportunity to acquire training. Hull-House now impacts over 60,000 individuals, families, and children annually3.


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OTHER SIMILAR PROJECTS Addams came up with the idea of finding a house in the poorest part of a big city, then, she would invite other women like herself to help the community. She was seeking models for instructions that did not exist in the United States (Brown & Korzenik, 1993). She visited Toynbee Hall4 and the People’s Palace5 in London. Toynbee Hall is a center for the community to take action to change lives and eradicate poverty in Britain. People's Palace was a place intended to provide a cultural centre for the people of the East End of Glasgow, Scotland. These experiences gave Addams ideas on how helping people in her country. Chicago in 1889 seemed a perfect place for Jane’s plan. She found a house in Halsted Street, built by a businessman named Charles Hull (Sammartino, 1993). ECONOMY Her father had left her enough money to live comfortably even if she never married and never found a job. However, after some time, Addams could not find the space or money for her projects. She had to look for support from wealthy people who believed in her work and had the will to contribute to it. One important donor was Helen Culver, the landlady of the Hull House. Culver donated the entire house and some nearby land rentfree for four years. In appreciation, they named the settlement Hull-House after Culver’s relative. The addition of the art gallery was as well paid by a donor in 1891. Money was tight during the Great Depression, but Hull House still managed to serve hot food to children in the nursery school, offer art classes, and provide many other services.

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CLAUDIA BERNARDI AND WALLS OF HOPE7 An interview with Claudia Bernardi CLAUDIA BERNARDI An in Claudia Bernardi is an internationally reknown artist who works in the fields of human rights and social justice and who has exhibited her work in over 40 solo exhibitions. In all of her work, whether as an artist through installation, sculpture, and printmaking, as an educator through teaching and lecturing, or as a participant in human rights investigations, she has impacted thousands of people with her integrity, compassion, and truthfulness. She is an artist who has Claudia Bernardi

witnessed monstrous atrocities and unspeakable human tragedies, yet speaks of these horrors in ways that

communicate the persistence of hope, undeniable integrity, and necessary remembrance8. In 1984, a forensic anthropology team was established under the new government in Argentina to supply evidence of violations of human rights carried out against civilian populations, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (AFAT). Her sister, Patricia, was one of the founding members of AFAT. Bernardi learned the meticulous scientific methods of handling human remains. Bernardi joined the AFAT in investigations of

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human rights violations in El Salvador, Guatemala, Argentina, and Ethiopia. Part of Bernardi’s responsibilities included the creation of the archeological maps and transcribing the testimonies of families of the “disappeared ones.” From here, Bernardi realized the full importance of how art could be used to educate, elucidate, and articulate the communal memories of survivors of human rights atrocities9. THE IDEA OF WALLS OF HOPE In 1992, Claudia Bernardi arrives at Perquín and realizes the traumas and needs the community had. In 2001, she returned to the country and for 4 months (approximately). In April 2001, conducts art activities in the community. She arrived with art materials to the small community of Perquín (4.000 or 5.000 inhabitants). The primary objective was not to create a school, she came as an artist with art materials to make an art project in the town square, and a project like that in a small town calls many people. Those interested were young people, and started other projects with them and with children. "People asked for it," says Bernardi. The city Mayor Ms. Miriam Chicas called a meeting with political leaders, the city hall, the church, and the police department, among others. "Claudia, I want you to be present at a meeting," Bernardi mentions she said, "How could we promote the inclusion of art as an ongoing activity in our community?" The community had the potential to do so. That is rare, given the situation of reluctantly to the arts in El Salvador. THE PROJECT She hoped to get funding from organizations in the United States but in that year, the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers occurred, and many philanthropic institutions in Central America disappeared and many funding were reassigned. Because of that lack of support, the project was postponed from 2001 to 2004. The artist created an auction of her artworks and with that funding the project began in 2005. The project started with institutional weakness as the community was still in a


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situation as described by Bernardi, postwar. PerquĂ­n has been poor before, during and after the war. The idea of school stems from the artist and arouses the interest of the community and local authorities. This has led to a very successful school. The artist showed to people in a period of 4 months the importance and influence of art in the community. And not only to people but also to the town authorities. There was, nor is there, a building for the school. It works with and for the community. Many organizations help by providing their premises. Everyone is included although the society is divided politically and religiously. They work to find a place to give workshops, and people from one party and another, one religion and another, help. The Walls of Hope's work is political but not partisan. The community contains peasant families (descendents of victims of the slaughter of El Mozote), and families of militaries. "And over all, there are the children." The school creates a space that gathers many people with different thoughts: Catholics, Evangelicals, etc., something that no other space does. A reforestation project has been assisted by the evangelical church, for example. The former mayor (from the FMLN) has occasionally funded teacher salaries. Similarly, new mayor (from ARENA), who was hesitant at first to provide help, after show him that the school is completely apolitical, could also help. They create meeting spaces through the practice of art. In all projects, the entire community is invited to participate including children from all strata. Children are taken into very much account as they are the less privileged. The courses and workshops are free as the materials in them. "It's about being ecumenical." They began working with children, youth and adults, but in 2008, the elders of the community approached the school to say they were not included in activities and workshops. Even when they always invited the entire community to participate, there was 10

not a project for them. They created the project Memorias de los niños de ayer (Memories of the children of yesterday), in which they created a mural depicting the vision of past times of the community through the eyes of the elderly. In developing the project, many seniors do not have the physical ability to paint, so they passed on their stories to children and young people to translate them into the mural. This served as a means of transmission of the cultural heritage of the people. This was an example of how art through community education helps keep alive the historical memory and cultural identity of individuals.

OTHER SIMILAR PROJECTS: It is not known of any other example of a project similar to the Walls of Hope in Central America, now or in the time they started the school. The closest are the Casas de la Cultura (Houses of Culture), which have a highly political mood due to they are administered by the government, which according to Bernardi is counterproductive. As being dependent on a particular political party, the people of the other party do not go there. The staff of the school of Perquín has been invited to collaborate with organizations in Guatemala and Colombia, in communities that, like Morazán, have also suffered state violence. In these international projects, the school's philosophy has become known as the Model Perquín. This model has the following characteristics: - It is completely independent of governmental institutions, they are not an NGO, and do not have any political link. - It uses art not only as "something beautiful,” but also as part of the education of human rights, community work, and diplomatic meeting in the community. - It works directly with communities, municipalities, health centers, schools, churches, etc.


Bernardi assumes that there must not be many projects with these features because they receive many invitations from abroad to make collaborations. Many of these should be declined. The school intends to get further, for example, they are interested in bringing the community arts education to the rural parts of the community located near the mountains. However, this task is impossible because they do not own a car. Attempts have been made to do so, getting the transport for the way out but not for the return. Some similar organizations are related to Houses of Culture or NGOs. ECONOMY: Currently, the school is sustained economically "to the brave," as said Bernardi, a Salvadorian expression that means ‘fighting’. Many art supplies have been gotten from the auction of artworks from the artist. Whenever they can, they make collection of material. The teachers in charge of the school have been very good managers though. Given that the materials provided in the classes are free, instructors should make students see that they are valuable, teaching them the values of love and respect for the organization and its assets. They have also managed to get donations of materials from local hardware stores (Freund and Sherwin Williams) through contacts. The salaries of the teachers come mostly from the very salary of the artist as an instructor at the California College of the Arts in the Department of Community Arts. She also continues making art works in her studio from time to time. They also receive help from organizations such as the San Carlos Foundation, Intersection for the Arts, among others. This is in addition to small donations from some collaborators, which are used for materials and salaries. Other incomes are from donors. For example, Doña Carmen, an 84 years old Salvadorian activist who lives in the US and who has been having a long time connection with the cooperatives of the north of Morazán, very generously, offered to provide two 12

scholarships for students of the school. However, when they told her that the School of Art was free of charge for the participants, they asked her to consider giving the School of Art funding to hire and pay salaries to artists/assistants. DoĂąa Carmen was delighted with the idea and she gave them $5,000 to create two paid positions within the School of Art and Open Studio of Perquin.10 Although the school is humble, it has achieved to currently get four permanent job positions. Payment of salaries is considered by Bernardi of primary importance, due to lack of work in the area. The level of emigration due to lack of jobs is big because they do not have even agriculture which to rely. Bernardi sees the salaries of the employees as the only way to prevent them from migrating abroad in search of better opportunities. We see here how arts education affects, albeit in small quantities, in the country's economic development, which is considered paramount by the school. FUTURE: The school has a plan to expand and strengthen its mission. This plan is expected to launch over the next 5 years. 1st. Step: Achieve total independence of local funding. This can be achieved through international fellowships. 2nd. Step: Buy land for the school. This has already been chosen and its value is estimated at $40.000. 3rd. Step: Construct the building. The MIT Department of Architecture has proposed to finance the construction of the school after the school obtains the land. 4th. Step: Create partnerships and cooperative programs with foreign universities, especially American, in which fieldwork is carried out, such as Study Abroad programs in which art and education students can make practices at the school of PerquĂ­n. For this, an adjacent space would be built which contain living spaces in order to provide accommodation to students. The school, from these connections with universities, could charge a certain fee. The school receives mail from people interested on participate with


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the school, they are mostly students of different fields: arts, politics, education, studies on Central America, and others. In this way, the school could become self-sufficient and self-sustaining. There will always be the ultimate goal of not relying on any government. To Bernardi it is important to "continue to maintain that transparency" and apolitical character, which promote the inclusion of foreign interests. PREDICTIONS: Claudia Bernardi has expressed optimism that the Salvadoran government to generate new changes in cultural and arts management. She has faith in the work proposed by Georgina Hernรกndez ... .., who can get to make those changes. According to Bernardi, Hernandez has shown interest in creating cultural and educational links with the people away from development. COMMENTS: In the words of Claudia Bernardi: What is special of the Walls of Hope project, personally, is that it "changed my life for good." Despite the obstacles, "everything was profit, the counterweight (the problems) is super affectionate." There are children who walk miles in the rain to get to their art class, "if you ask me, I would not do that!" Says Bernardi very grateful.



The work of Jane Addams has been described as groundbreaking and innovative. Claudia Bernardi’s project defined a model for further programs. Both ideas had no or few precedents in their societies. Following the examples of other countries (as in Addams’ case) and generating new ones based of people’s needs, made of these centers a successful role model. Helping communities goes beyond the will to do it, it is necessary to do it in an innovative way, based on the situations of those communities. Both ideas, Bernardi’s and Addams’, at the beginning were not to create an art school, or to create a center for understanding through the arts; these ideas were born from the desire of their creators to help people. In both cases, art came to be an indispensable tool in the process of improving communities grounded in the necessities these communities had. These two projects do not work for the people, they work with the people. In both cases, the organization was not the only agent involved in the work. It was just a seed that promoted collaboration between people, not just inside the communities, but also between outsiders. Community projects are not about organizations and institutions, they are about people working together. It is the people who maintain the organizations alive, and who continue their labor through the time. It is notable in both cases, the important role in the success of the project, of local collaborators and volunteers. Both creators believed in the potential of communities to become united. Their beliefs do not aim just to find similarities in people, but also the differences between them are factors of unity. Political, cultural, religious or original differences were not obstacles in these communities to become one. Art has the power to get people together regardless their differences. Generational differences were reunited in a process of cultural transfer. Passing cultural heritage from older generations to new ones was an action inherent in the two projects. 15

Whether it was by painting a mural about local history, or showing traditional skills, the relations between generations were brought closer. This effect is part of the general power of art to unite people. In the management of funds and resources, there are small differences in the two projects. Hull House began with big resources from its creator: Addams’ inheritance which was enough to rent a house and furnish it. Walls of Hope began with no funds until the auction of Bernardi’s artwork, which was enough just for materials. But in both cases, the necessity for extra support was inevitable. The support from donors and collaborative relations with institutions became indispensable for the development and success of this type of projects. It is consubstantial that these organizations eventually become selfsufficient or independent. The biggest difference between these two inspirational initiatives resides in their places of work. Hull House started with a big beautiful furnished house in which people could gather, and in some part, this had much to do in the objectives of the project to provide such a place for people who did not have one. In the other side, Walls of Hope, paradoxically to its name, started without and still has no physical place in which its activities are implemented. This difference leads to think that for projects of this nature, the most important element becomes the people. And it is logical to say that without strong people like Jane Addams and Claudia Bernardi, these necessary projects would have never been a reality.



Community-arts centers play an indispensable role in the development of societies. This has been witness in the success of Walls of Hope and Hull House. The way art educators implement these types of projects must be deeply studied in order to make our efforts take, not just us, but also our communities to success. According to the study in this project, some points must be taken in account. Regardless of our first intentions in participating or creating a community-arts-based program, it is important to have in mind that our objectives must be dictated by the needs of the community. We must look for the problems in the community in which art can help. We must be aware that our objectives can change as the situation of the community changes. Our mission must be constantly updated and reviewed. These changing situations require us to keep an innovative spirit and a sense of originality in our work and project design. We have to be conscious of the fact that every community is different, thus they require different and new treatments. We cannot do it alone. The process of developing a project like the ones review in this study is hard and expensive. We must work with –not just for– our communities. These projects are about collaboration, not just between managers and public, but also between people around. Everybody should be involved in this type of programs. The ultimate objectives should be always to get people together, to unify communities, to generate understanding, to help cultures survive, and to promote social justice. Because at the end, these projects are all about people.



Addams J. (1910). Twenty Years at Hull-House with Autobiographical Notes. New York, NY: The Macmillan Company. Brown, M. & Korzenik, D. (1993). Art Making and Education. Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press. Congdon, K., Blandy, D. & Bolin, P. (2001). Histories of Community-Based Art Education. Reston, VA: National Art Education Association. Deegan, M.J. (2010). Jane Addams on citizenship in a democracy. Journal of Classical Sociology, 10(217), 217-238. Efland, A.D. (1990). A History of Art Education: Intellectual and Social Currents in Teaching the Visual Arts. New York, NY and London: Teachers College Press, Columbia University. Gaudelius, Y. & Speirs, P. (2002). Contemporary Issues in Art Education. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Griffith, S.C. (2009). Jane Addams, Stories, and Imagination. Language Arts, 86(4), 302-310. La Porte, A.M. (2004). Community Connections: Intergenerational Links in Art Edcuation. Reston, VA: National Art Education Association. Sammartino, S. (1993). Peace and Bread: The Story of Jane Addams. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books, Inc.


WOH research  

A Comparative Study of Two Great Arts-Based Community Projects

WOH research  

A Comparative Study of Two Great Arts-Based Community Projects