The Story of ArtCorps
In 1999, a spirited French woman named Martine Kellett decided to start a program within New England Biolabs Foundation, where she served as Executive Director, to explore art’s power to improve communication and participation of rural communities in Guatemala facing environmental challenges. She called the program ArtCorps. Born from an epiphany of the power of art to transcend language barriers and cultural differences and inspired by the Peace Corps model, Field Artists engaged in participatory art projects to bring communities together in the common goal of achieving grassroots change. Artists also collaborated with leaders and educators to apply creative approaches for greater buy-in for their program outreach.
Each year, a select group of talented artists packed their bags and embarked on an adventure full of unexpected challenges, heartbreaking realities, and inspiring transformations. They marched with women to proclaim their rights; directed plays that allowed youth to find their place in the world; depicted good health practices in colorful murals; promoted sound environmental approaches through bookmaking, photography, poetry, marches and painting; and urged behavior change through countless plays, murals, puppet shows and exhibits. Their creativity was limitless. But their time was not always easy. One recurring challenge was trying to convince partner organizations that this work was meaningful, useful. But organizations, strapped with limited resources, did not prioritize creative approaches, mostly because they hadn’t worked alongside the artists and learned the importance and relevance of creativity in their work. So, when the artists returned home, the communities they served felt the loss when the creativity left with them and the spark went out.
We decided it was time to re-evaluate the approach - incorporating a rigorous and engaging curriculum to transfer knowledge partner organizations need to unearth new solutions to old problems. They are inspired when they discover the kernel deep within brimming with creative thinking, seeing the world through a new lens. They are invigorated by the new methods for building communities and leadership. For motivating and mobilizing. For breaking down barriers and breaking open new thinking. They feel a sense of community with their peers, together tapping into this bountiful and free resource, bringing forth new ways of engaging those they serve. They paint, sculpt, act, sing, make music and dance together, with guidance and accompaniment.
The result - a more viable and impactful model that reaches more and ensures lasting change.
Today, ArtCorps continues to thrive as the community engagement program within Creative Action Institute. Teams from our partner organizations undergo extensive training, then focus on building upon the skills they learned, and as the final piece, work with our artists on the ground on community projects to highlight key issues.