Culture Corridors is a multi-disciplinary, international initiative utilizing artistic and cultural practices and exchanges, to lay the foundation for a sustainable platform for multi-level engagement around myriad issues related to the Americas’ drug trade and the profound social, political and economic effects on civil society in the region and on marginalized communities (immigrant, indigenous/ethnic minority, urban poor) in particular.
After over 4 decades it is clear that the War on Drugs is as described by the President and the Attorney General an “utter failure”. Despite all evidence supporting this conclusion (including an approximate $1 trillion in spending), policies that favor: interventions by military and police, increased arrest, incarceration and border control persist with minimal or disastrous results. At the same time, organized crime syndicates steadily evolve into more sophisticated and more dangerous, trans-national operations employing tens of thousands and valued in the tens of billions. As it becomes common knowledge that organized crime extends into every sector of society, it also becomes clear the critical role that art and culture can and must play in exposing corruption, impunity, imperialism and violence on the macro and micro levels. Only through the arts and culture can viable alternatives to the current policies and enforcement be imagined, designed and implemented.
Throughout the Americas, the War on Drugs has had a catastrophic impact on urban poor, immigrant and indigenous communities, drastically altering both their physical and psychological landscapes. It has resulted in mass incarceration, inhumane immigration policies, internalized militarization, rampant violence and the exacerbation of social inequality. Each community/country’s visual culture bears the impression of historical scars, dangerous realities and visions for the future. It is in this reflective space at the convergence of the physical and psychological wHere artistic process can play a key role in mediating the effects of social inequality and the distrust it engenders between communities. Artists play crucial roles in illuminating and addressing the issues affecting their communities, but have not established equally sophisticated networks of communication and mobility as organized crime and so remain unable to successfully counteract its devastating impact on civil society.
It is from this analysis that the Even Development Corporation (EDC), appropriating the infrastructure of organized crime both as a method and a metaphor, emerged in part as an incubator for artistic collaboration and cultural exchange; to develop innovative, replicable models/processes of cross-community engagement and education; and a think tank to generate practical solutions/recommendations to influence institutional responses and drug policies.
1. To engage in a participatory process (based in artistic production) of geo-political/geo-cultural mapping to understand, document and illustrate the range and depth of situations currently being faced by communities that are affected by drug trafficking in Central America, Mexico and the United States.
2. To employ (conceptually and literally) the metrics, terminologies and structures of the drug trade as the baseline language for creating unique artistic and cultural exchanges (public interventions, community exhibitions, etc.) between artists, organizations (arts, education, social service, human rights) and communities situated on the various interlinked corridors of the drug trade in the Americas.
3. To create spaces for inter-community dialogue and creative partnerships and collaborations in order to build solidarity, facilitate the exchange of ideas, information and resources and collectively devise solutions to problems currently facing communities affected by the drug trade.
The Even Development Corporation (EDC) proposes the horizontal integration of a ‘culture trafficking network’ linking artists, art spaces, service, community and human rights organizations along the various drug corridors in the Americas. Appropriating the metrics, language and structures of the drug trade and organized crime, the EDC aims to catalyze new creative modes of outreach and engagement that explore and mediate the socio-cultural impacts of the War on Drugs on urban poor, immigrant and indigenous communities. Activities include: ethnographic research, geopolitical mapping, cross-sector collaboration and community workshops/interventions.
Throughout the hemisphere, artists play crucial roles in illuminating and addressing the impact of the drug trade on their communities, but have not established equally sophisticated networks of communication and mobility as organized crime. Artists who facilitate positive change in their communities lack support when attacked and/or delegitimized; and communities at risk, in particular youth, are labeled as criminal by proximity to illegal activity. In order to challenge this, the EDC operationally frames the art space/studio as ‘processing center’, artists as ‘traffickers’ and ‘local dealers’, communities engaged as ‘distribution network’, artworks produced as ‘illegal commodities’ and ‘dealing’ as a performative act of community engagement. This conceptually places the project in its entirety as underground activity, creating a sense of collusion between communities. At the same time through dialogue, producing and trading artworks, participants collectively challenge the dominant narrative, legitimizing their personal experiences and stories.
Collaborating with local community, social service and human rights organizations, an affiliated artist/collective (with significant experience in the location) will facilitate workshops/interventions in affected communities, designed around a milestone of the War on Drugs (e.g. crack epidemic, HIV/AIDS), and/or a topic of particular relevance to their neighborhood or city (e.g. policing, addiction). Through this process participants both create reflective works of art and play a key role in crafting a War on Drugs educational supplement.
Amber Art as the core group of ‘traffickers’ will caravan to each location, share ideas for community based workshops/interventions while trading ‘local product’ between ‘processing centers’. This creates a distribution network where strategies/models of arts based community education are exchanged as well as an inventory of artworks in each location - creatively utilized in public space - that expands the concept of a traveling exhibition.
MODES OF ENGAGEMENT:
At each location/city there is a multi-tier process of artistic exchange and production; community and institutional collaboration that will enable us to build upon ideas and experiences from locations that have already been visited sharing the culminating body of work/process with new contributors and audiences.
We have confirmed or are in conversation with a local artist/point person(s) and an arts, culture, community, social service or human rights organization(s) who will anchor the project, based on geographical positioning and a deep understanding of issues affecting communities. Amber Art will work closely with these individuals and organizations to determine the format and content of educational/creative activities, select participants, and execute the project at each location.
Modes of Engagement are conceptually modeled on the four primary activities at the core of the illegal drug trade: cultivating, manufacturing, distributing and selling.
The EDC will start with a pilot ‘corridor’ along the I-95, from New York City to Miami. In each location, a partner organization (e.g. Project Reach - NYC, Village of Arts & Humanities – Philadelphia) will be the hub for the expansion of the ‘culture trafficking network’. Collaborating with local community, social service and human rights organizations, an affiliated artist/collective (with significant experience in the location) will facilitate workshops/interventions in affected communities, designed around a milestone of the War on Drugs (e.g. crack epidemic, HIV/AIDS), and/or a topic of particular relevance to their neighborhood or city (e.g. policing, addiction). Through this process participants both create reflective works of art and play a key role in crafting a War on Drugs educational supplement.
The success of the pilot will be determined by: skills and knowledge gained by communities, the aesthetic value/function of the final ‘inventory’ and a first iteration of an educational supplement. In its entirety this initiative has the scope to build trust between communities affected by the drug trade (from Colombia to the U.S.) and support the development of structures for communication, mobility and solidarity based in creative collusion.
PROJECT Partners & ADVISeRS:
Lucina Jimenez – Director, ConArte (Mexico City)
Guillermo Monteforte – Director, Ojo de Agua Communicacion (Oaxaca)
Gonzalo Alvarez – Director, Mammutt (Mexico City)
Ana Maria Sosa – Independent development consultant (Tegucigalpa)
Rebeca Lane – Musician (Guatemala City)
Angel Velasco Shaw – Artist + Director, Institute for Heritage, Culture and the Arts @ Philippine Women’s University (Manila)
Fay Chiang – Artist & Program Director, Project Reach (NYC)
Prerana Reddy – Director of Public Programs, Queens Museum (NYC)
Roberto Varea – Artist + Professor, University of San Francisco, Performing Arts & Social Justice
Born in Mississippi and been on the move ever since. Living all over the U.S. and overseas has given this nomadic artist a broad view on life. A graduate of the Art Institute of Atlanta; Willis channels creative energy thru many outlets from digital design to free-flowing acrylics on substrates that range from clothing apparel to thirty foot murals. His art articulates inner freedom thru outward expression.
Charles Barbin, Amber Artist
Charles received his BFA from Temple University‚ Tyler School of Art in 2002, majoring in painting. During that time he completed a semester in Rome from January-May 2001. Since 2004, He has worked with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program painting and designing murals, he's also been involved in MAP‚ art education programs. In 2010 during a year-long mural project on JEVS Behavioral Health center building in Philadelphia he conducted outpatient painting workshops in conjunction with the mural at the Philadelphia Airport, “How Philly Moves”.
Linda Fernandez, Amber Artist
A graduate of Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, Linda developed a passion for creating art by engaging communities and went on to work with the Philadelphia Mural Arts program. From 2008-2010 she lived in Barcelona, Nicaragua and Guatemala where she continued to study contemporary art and create murals by engaging with community members from impoverished neighborhoods. In 2010 Linda returned to Philadelphia where she has been working as a teaching artist and engaging members of the Hispanic community through creative workshops.
Colleagues & Collaborators
Sidd Joag, New York
Artist, ethnographer & cultural activist
Since 2011, Sidd has been working with freeDimensional - an international art and human rights network supporting individuals and collectives working in areas of conflict and facing persecution as a result of their creative practice - designing and implementing programs globally to support artists, culture workers and communicators facing risk. Prior to joining fD, Sidd Joag worked with community arts projects in New York, India, China and co-founded an artist residency/exchange program in Southwestern China, focused on ethnic minority cultural preservation in the China-Burma borderlands. Sidd has an MSc in Sociology from the London School of Economics and Political Science with concentrations in Crime, Control and Globalisation, Cultural Theory and New Media and a B.A. in Sociology from New York University. His paintings, installations and experimental films have been seen in the United States, Canada, India, the Philippines, China, Northern Ireland and Central America.