“Today’s forecast is rain with increasing sun,” could’ve been the opening broadcast for my NGO’s ArtWalk event in May. Its backstory is in my previous post “Gloomy Sunday.” This pilot project for 2016 came in under-budget with over-extended staff and volunteers and with me, the Peace Corps community development specialist, shouting “Onward!” in the background..
What’s the now-breaking story? Our event survived planning and execution failures, youth apathy and inaction, cross-cultural gulfs and tiffs, a fallible and fledgling printing enterprise, impending and then heavy rain, finally emerging from that dreary concoction into a modestly convivial day of a handful of community members gathering to honor a unique Armenian city as our group took a pleasant walk along the Aghstev River in Ijevan to view and enjoy the artistic talents of the old sculptors and contemporary young artists. In the returning sunshine we stopped for softly playing guitar music, our hands and faces getting painted with bright red hearts inscribed with “Ijevan Loves You!” written in Armenian. In other, shorter words: ArtWalk survived.
Each Armenian region has its own special features that captivate and foster community pride as well as become tourism calling cards. Many regions have festivals to celebrate these features, be it forest honey production or sheep-shearing. Ijevan has its Sculpture Park where nature and art come together alongside the cascading river and between the academic and marketplace sectors of the town. It’s entirely possible that ArtWalk could, in time and with effort, become a Tavush regional festival, this year’s event a short overture of that possibility.
A number of lessons learned are apparent in evaluating this year’s ArtWalk. Continued discussion of cultural differences between Armenian traditions and American (or Western) practices would yield worthy results for ArtWalk. Should the posters be displayed two weeks before the event or two days before the event, as they were this year? Should we add in more promotional whizbangs to attract attention? As we address the youth apathy issue, should we perhaps rely on supportive adults and professionals to help manage the event and mentor our youth “apprentices?” On the whole, ArtWalk needs more buy-in from the community and we’ll leverage the this year’s pilot project to engender those relationships. Good festivals take time.
As I also reflect on my Peace Corps service impact in this situation, I have to remind myself that we were never promised to experience big, important changes.In fact, most of the changes will be small and so subtle you might not recognize how they alter behavior, thought or action. We are continuously reminded that we are “planting a tree, under the shade of which we will never sit.” ArtWalk, then, is a branch of my tree, which, my supervisor tells me, is my Armenian counterpart. As resistant to suggestions and changes as she can sometimes be, I have to consider how differently she now speaks, behaves, thinks and acts as compared to a year ago. She has grown impressively. I hope, and do believe, I had a part in that. In a few months I will leave and she will stay. She will be here to influence the young volunteers, her coworkers, her peers — all the leaves of the strengthening tree.