Activating the Arts for International Development: Community Education, Innovative Models and Transnational Networks

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Anthropology


'Precarious Publishing in Latin America: Relations, meaning and community in movement' (hereafter 'Precarious Publishing') is an ongoing AHRC project funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund from 2018 to 2020. 'Precarious Publishing' focuses on a contemporary publishing phenomenon known in Latin America as editoriales cartoneras, often translated as 'cardboard publishing', because one feature that unites these 250 community organisations is the material from which they make their books: recycled cardboard. Yet the term 'cartonera' encompasses far more than the word 'cardboard'. It is also a reference to the cartonero figure - the cardboard collector or waste picker, a consequence of economic crisis, unemployment and poverty - that was so central in the formation of the first cartonera publisher Eloisa Cartonera in Buenos Aires (2003). Fifteen years on, some of these publishers, like Eloisa and Dulcineia (São Paulo), continue to work with waste-pickers. Many others have recycled the model of promoting change through community workshops, adapting it to address specific social and economic challenges: some work with groups of school children from marginalized rural areas, others with human rights in conflict zones, and others still, promoting sustainable production and consumption of materials and other resources.

The 'Precarious Publishing' research team has developed an innovative and interdisciplinary methodological framework to research on - and contribute to - cartonera practices in Mexico and Brazil. This framework is composed of a constellation of collaborative methods, including encuentros cartoneros (round-table debates and open forum discussions), co-publications, exhibitions, and workshops. The 'Activating the Arts' Follow-on-Funding develops the potential for impact arising from this process, by creating unforeseen pathways arising from ongoing engagement with our cartonera collaborators. Together, we have identified the cartonera workshop as the mot robust and portable model of community outreach activity, able as it is to respond and adapt to different short and long-term development challenges. Our Follow on Funding brings together academics from Durham University and the University of Surrey, four cartonera publishers (two in Mexico, two in Brazil) - project collaborators with whom the research team have strong existing working relations - and other public stakeholders from the Ministry of Education in Mexico to the Director of the Mário de Andrade Library in São Paulo. Together, we will build, test, share and track an innovative programme of collaborative, creative workshops focused on education for sustainable development (ESD). The four cartonera publishers have been chosen because of their existing engagement with different global challenges, most particularly their work relating to inclusive and quality education; sustainable cities and communities; tackling stigma and inequality; and the promotion of peace and justice.

'Activating the Arts', will first pilot 4 sets of 15 workshops in rural and urban locations in Mexico and Brazil. These workshops will incorporate reflection with action, artistic creativity with social awareness, to build capacity to respond to specific local challenges - which in turn map onto global challenges including quality education, equality, peace and justice, and sustainability. On the basis of this pilot, we will then create a cartonera outreach programme - designed to instantiate multidimensional social and welfare impact - to be shared with all cartonera actors and their collaborators working in NGOs, social movements, and other social initiatives. The potential scalability of this portable socio-artistic model, combined with the transnational networks and collaborations that are already in place, provides an exciting opportunity to build capacity for sustainable development in hard-to-reach, marginalized communities in LMICs across and beyond Latin America.

Planned Impact

Impact is integral to the grassroots actions of cartonera publishers. This project will extend and strengthen the impact of cartoneras through a focus on education for sustainable development, with a number of anticipated impacts including changed attitudes and behaviour, capacity building and strengthening, broader networks and collaborations, and multidimensional social impacts. The initial beneficiaries will be members of the global cartonera network, and the communities in which they work. In the third phase of the project, though, our portable workshop programme will be shared across the cartoneras' transnational network of collaborators working in grassroots projects across the Global South: NGOs, social movements, and other informal social initiatives and community activists. Because of the portability and scalability of the cartonera model, and because of the international network of community activists with which it intersects (see CFS), the programme is expected to be successful both in reach and significance.

Moving away from traditional pedagogical methods in International Development practices and discourse, the participatory workshops we propose empower communities to imagine their own solutions to global challenges through collective activities and discussions (see CFS). Incorporating reflection with action, artistic creativity with social awareness, our cartonera workshop programme will be designed to promote changed attitudes and behaviour in community contexts across the world, particularly in relation to issues of inclusive education, gender equality, peace and justice, and environmental sustainability (including responsible production and consumption of which cartoneras are a model).

Our portable educational programme, focused on education for sustainable development (ESD), is designed to build capacity across and beyond Latin America through new, innovative methods. Though the model of making books out of recovered cardboard is intrinsically simple and accessible, it requires resources, collaboration and creativity to put it to use for the promotion of SDGs. Through open-access resources, our project will strengthen the capacity of cartoneras and other community actors to promote sustainable development across the creative industries, the Not-for-profit sector, and the substantial informal sector in the Global South.

Our interdisciplinary framework activates the arts by bringing together aesthetic practice and social action. This means a) building on existing collaborations between artists and activists, cultural promoters and social movement actors, and b) integrating these collaborations into a common programme of workshop activities. Through the interdisciplinary models proposed in our programme, cartoneras will be able to collaborate with a more diverse range of organizations working on key international development issues, from sustainability to peace and justice.

In the longer term, this innovative approach to international development has the potential to be implemented in hard-to-reach, marginalized communities in LMICs across the world. As our current AHRC research project has shown, the cartonera model responds to the call for a multidimensional approach to progress: in rural schools in poor areas, it can enhance the national curriculum by modelling forms of responsible production, sustainable living and resilience; in marginalized urban communities, it can help tackle inequality by challenging social stigma and empowering individuals and collectives; and in conflict zones, it can join in the global movement for peace and justice through collective, reparative action. This diversity of possible impacts means that cartonera, through its rootedness in local communities, has true potential to enact change on a global level.


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