Villalba is convinced that art education will solve the problem. No longer an industrial appendage, in a few years the community will regenerate itself to emerge as an artisan village flourishing in its ancient tradition of clay craftsmanship.
Agustin Villalba came to Mexico 7 years ago. An aspiring arts and crafts educator, he was on the personal mission to investigate the tradition of Mayan ceramics – the topic he was researching in the libraries at home in Argentina. To his surprise and so much more to his disappointment, Playa del Carmen where he arrived with his partner – back then a small town to have already caught the virus of real-estate development and impregnated with the values of global commercial culture – failed to offer any material evidence for the existence of the subject. Upsetting as it was, the first "discovery" did not derail the expedition. On the contrary, it took the explorers further down the road.
Having traveled around the Yucatan Peninsula for a year, they came upon a village, a home to a Mayan community living in the jungle off the grid of globalization. New living conditions – the way of life of the villagers – soon proved to be too harsh for the companion. As for Agustin, he thought the lack of basic conveniences was a fair price for him to pay for the knowledge he was about to acquire.
Besides, his (now solo) journey was not all about acquisition. The researcher's ambitions were much loftier: to accumulate knowledge of Mayan arts in bits and pieces, systematize it and to feed it back, methodically refined, to the community it originally belonged to, as a recuperation and enhancement of its cultural self-identity.
He is no Bill Gates whose magnanimity obtains from lavish cash advances to various causes. Agustin does not have much cash to shift around, if any at all. He does what is in his power of competence and good will. In the jungle, he founds an art school. His students are kids, age 5 -12, whose parents sustain the families economically by burning wood producing charcoal. Their health is poor, earnings are minuscule and both tend to decline forcing many to leave their homes looking for employment in the cities. The village has no future, but here comes Agustin and he is on to something.
Professor Villalba is convinced that art education will solve the problem. No longer an industrial appendage, in a few years the community will regenerate itself to emerge as an artisan village flourishing in its ancient tradition of clay craftsmanship. In Agustin's scenario, the economic forces of tourism have no small role to play. Booming international tourism, its ethically and aesthetically sophisticated segment, creates a market that demands authentic goods, a variety of art objects that manifest the spirit of indigenous culture shedding light on its socio-economic realities. Supply of such art objects ("vital art") entails the development of skills and talents, maintains the tradition, provides more generously for livelihood, has no adverse impact on the environment and does not affect one's health.
Apart from teaching essential art skills to kids, Agustin is working tirelessly to promote his social responsibility cause taking it out of the jungle to the beach where it gains more exposure and encouragement. His KIDS ON THE BEACH program, supported by the Papaya Playa Project, introduces Mayan children to the world outside their isolated habitat. Some of them born to poverty and constrained by it in their movement have never seen the beach or the ocean, never made it this far from the jungle. To some families, even public transportation is an unaffordable luxury.
KIDS ON THE BEACH is a playground of learning and creativity, an open classroom and art studio with the settings to stimulate thought, to engage imagination, foster cooperative activities across different cultures, and enjoy oneself on the beach. Aside from its main purpose stated above and the key participants brought from the village, the program extends to families vacationing in Tulum with children. Every Sunday parents around the area are invited to enroll their kids into the course of Mayan pottery taught by Agustin in English, Spanish and French, and let them play in the peer group under the supervision of his assistants. Proceeds go to advance the social responsibility cause.
Be a part of it, if only by sharing this information with your friends... who, having kids, may just as well be looking for it.