El Otro Lado in the Community

Engaging Society Through the Arts
El Otro Lado provides the opportunity for a community-wide activation of the perennial and profound inquiry into, “Who am I?” The project inspires community members to keep their flame of creativity alive in an exploration of self and personal journey, through the mediums of artwork and story-telling, and as such, is part of the Academy for the Love of Learning’s larger intent to activate a culture of learning through which new forms of education, leadership and organizational practice emerge and thrive.

Beginning in Fall 2009, artist Chrissie Orr together with writer Michelle Otero and a diverse team of artists, began presenting the El Otro Lado to an equally diverse group of community members. They met with recent immigrants at El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, gathered at the Native American Community Academy with Native American students and families, and facilitated a mix of traditional Hispanic and other community members at community and senior centers.

The intergenerational, cross-cultural participants in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe actively create symbolic maps/cartograms, visual representations and audio recordings of their stories, their journeys, their landmarks, their boundaries and their sense of place and home.

Read about El Otro Lado in “13 Radical Acts of Education” by Yes! Magazine.

The Santa Fe Project culminated with an outdoor public art installation of participants’ compositions in the summer of 2009, that was displayed at locations throughout the entire city — parks, City Hall, community centers and libraries.

El Otro Lado in the Community is a community arts engagement project using the creative process to address issues of migration, human rights, boundaries and sense of place was developed and created in Santa Fe by artist Chrissie Orr.

Over the course of a year and a half, an intensive series of workshops took place with youth at Tierra Encantado Charter School, as well as the Santa Fe Art Institute during their summer intensive for youth. Workshops for the Women and Childrens’ group were held at Adelante, the South Side Library and the Academy for the Love of Learning, as well as at individuals’ private homes. The workshops were designed for families, women, children and individual community members.

Designed to provide a safe space for all to be able to share and express delicate stories and topics in relation to migration, journey and human rights, the workshops were tailored to each site and its participants. Evolving over time and allowing time to build trust, the workshops ran once a week at each site for up to six weeks. Community-based organizations, art institutions, educational entities and positive community mentors supported the design of the workshops.

Giving Voice to the Voiceless

For El Otro Lado participants, the uncovering of their memories, and stories gave way to an experience of identity seen through the distinctiveness of their art, handwriting, and their literal voices in the oral storytelling. Desenvolver —translated from Spanish as the verb “to unwrap”— was how several participants described the gradual deepening of their experience.

The participants of El Otro Lado found that cultural boundaries and differences disappear when these stories are told and heard. They learned that they share much more in common with one another than they realized or expected. As artist/facilitator Chrissie Orr shares, it is the mutuality of the self-discovery that also fuels her involvement.

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