ArtCorps believes every person has a leading role to play in building a vibrant, just and sustainable world. We develop the creative and leadership capacity of social changemakers to innovatively address the challenges of our time.
Dec 20, 2014

We Need Everybody

Participants explore five basic principles of collaboration – Participation, Trust, Accountability, Communication and Shared Goals – by creating collective human sculptures.

Exploring five basic principles of collaboration through frozen human sculptures.

ArtCorps is providing training and technical assistance to a select group of marine and terriestrial conservation organizations in both Belize and Guatemala, as part of the two-year Gulf of Honduras Creative Conservation Project. December 1-3 brought these organizations together for the Creative Collaboration Course, the third installement of ArtCorps' four-part curriculum.

What does it take to truly collaborate?  In the first week of December, seven different conservation organizations from across the Gulf of Honduras came together in Punta Gorda, Belize for three intensive days with ArtCorps to find out. Maximiliano Cal, a participant from the indigenous-led non-profit Ya’axché Conservation Trust, summed up both the objective and outcome of this training with great clarity: “No one person has the answer.  The answer lies in everyone working together.”

We know that collective action is essential if we are going to transform unsustainable systems and practices that threaten people and the planet. We also know that collaboration can be tedious and time-consuming due to the challenging dynamics of poor conflict management, miscommunication, competition, time pressure, or top-down approaches that generate mistrust and apathy.  While good collaboration is not easy, it is vital. As ArtCorps’ Director of Development Tracie Hines reflected on her participation in the training, “We think we save time by working alone or in silos, but real collaboration makes our work more effective, vibrant, interesting and creative. We actually save time in the long run and are able to accomplish something much bigger than our individual efforts could ever do.”

To lay the foundation for our collaborative inquiry, the group in training examined five basic principles of collaboration – Participation, Trust, Accountability, Communication and Shared Goals – by creating collective human sculptures. Working together in small groups, they created frozen images with their bodies to depict the value, obstacles and skills related to each principle.  The physical images were used as a launching pad to share their personal and professional experiences and to understand how they can transform collaboration challenges that are common in their conservation work.

"The Hand Team" presenting

“The Hand Team” presenting an artistic representation  of the team’s identity, inclusive and reflective of each member’s strengths and contributions.

Next, charged with creating a team name and an artistic representation that expressed their “special sauce”, or unique identity as a group, they formed teams by identifying the strengths each person brought to the table. The room buzzed with laughter and creative energy as the teams collaborated quickly to generate poems, songs and visuals that were inclusive and reflective of everyone.

After establishing that inclusive participation is critical, the participants moved into an examination of their individual social identities by creating visual mandalas and openly sharing their stories of inclusion and exclusion with each other.  They shared the negative messages they have received and difficult experiences they have had based on their gender, race, class, family of origin, age or other socially constructed category. This opened up profound reflection for all participants to understand the negative impact that marginalization and trauma can have on one’s ability to contribute.  The participants expressed a renewed commitment to be aware of this dynamic and to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and considered in the development of a collaborative project or campaign.

Trust building activity

Working together in experiential trust building.

The group also worked on building trust with each other. In small groups, they formed tight circles in which each person had a chance to stand in the center and fall in any direction, allowing themselves to be caught by their teammates. The shared goal was to ensure everyone’s safety.  This process generated a lot of emotion, prompting discussion about what it takes to establish trust, how to repair trust if it is broken and the role of accountability in effective collaboration. In a very visceral way, the participants realized that each person in a team needs to be responsible so that no one falls to the ground. They applied this insight naturally to the important role that each person plays in making their organizations strong and effective, regardless of their position or title.

In addition to trust building games, participants engaged in communication role plays, parallel thinking around an issue, saying “yes, and…” to build on each other’s ideas and identifying creative activities they can use to improve collaboration within their organizations and communities. They ended the training with strong words of appreciation for each other and their time together:

We need everyone.

Every perspective is critical to collective action and Creative Collaboration !

“I am stunned by how interconnected we are and by how far we have come in three days.”

“I have learned that by making ‘I statements’, I can change a situation from conflict to connection.”

“I am much more able to trust my co-workers now.”

“So many possibilities open up when we make room for everyone’s perspective,”


We need everybody!”

In this pivotal time, these last words ring true. We need everybody to participate in building a just, thriving and sustainable world. Every perspective is critical to understanding the true needs of our communities and to making culturally appropriate and informed decisions about how to manage our resources. If you are wondering what it will take to make lasting and transformative change, just ask our Belizean partners in creative conservation. They know that the answer lies in everyone working together.

Sep 5, 2014

Land, Sea, and Humanity: The Connected World We Live In

We are all connected, say the environmental and social scientists: all the organisms and ecosystems on the planet. The truth in this aphorism is impossible to miss when flying over the Belizean coast in an impossibly small eight passenger plane. Below are the blues and greens of Carribbean waters, which blend with briny brown rivers that wind like snakes through green mangrove colonies, into blink-and-you’ll-miss-them coastal communities and beyond into rainforests that blanket the mountainous landscape. Just by looking at the land and seascapes from above, it is clear that collective effort is required for environmental conservation to be successful.

Belize from above, Courtesy of Louisa Trackman

I am here in Punta Gorda, Belize to connect with the six terrestrial, coastal and marine conservation organizations with which ArtCorps works and to participate in Creative Facilitation, the second course in our Creative Leadership Certificate Program. The objective of this course is for participants to develop and practice their creative facilitation skills, gaining fundamental knowledge and confidence to effectively lead their own groups. 

The course was a smash hit, with everyone finding ways to communicate more effectively and facilitate activities that elicit empathy, dialogue and a collective vision. And, we connected with each other. Maybe it was because we had to disconnect; we all agreed not to use our cellphones during the course and the country was coincidentally experiencing a nation-wide internet outage. But I think it was mostly because participants were hungry for such connection.

Circle of Hands with Louisa, Courtesy of Aryeh Shell

Belize is home to only 200,000 people. And while most conservation leaders already know each other at least by name, they rarely get a chance to identify common challenges and collaborate to uncover possible strategies to address them. The spaces for connection are critical: the complexity of the environmental and social challenges we face require working together to address them. It was inspiring for all of us to be part of an initiative that not only builds critical skills to advance conservation work but also builds connections among champions for a sustainable and healthy planet.

This initiative was sponsored by the New England Biolabs Foundation.

The author Louisa Trackman is ArtCorps’ Development Officer.

Apr 29, 2014

Preparing for a National Role

Maria discovered her voice and purpose in ArtCorps’ workshops. She now serves on a national committee for community development, applying her leadership and creativity to improve living conditions in rural El Salvador.


In 2013, Maria del Carmen attended the leadership school for rural women leaders (“Escuela Rural”) with 19 other microcredit organizers. The facilitator, ArtCorps Artist Miguel Zepeda Santos, recalls that she was embarrassed to speak in front of the group and only responded to a question when asked directly during the first few months. However, despite her obvious discomfort, she never refused to participate in the creative expression exercises, and her participation gradually improved as she engaged in conversation more often and interacted more with the other women leaders.

One day, she shared that her town planned to form a volunteer committee and that she was thinking about participating. The group encouraged her to be part of this effort, as an opportunity both for personal growth and to serve her community. And she joined.

In our workshops, we continued to work on self-esteem, communication and conflict transformation, using role play and other creative methods. A noticeable shift had taken place in Maria—her shyness was a thing of the past and her ambition to keep learning took the forefront.

The next month, Maria told us that she had been selected as a departmental (state) representative for the rural progress committee she served on. She was chosen based on her communication skills, ability to express herself and strong interest in improving the living conditions of her people. Maria credited the creative leadership workshops with helping her become a better leader for her community, and we congratulated her on the significant progress she had shown.

In our last meeting of the year, as we celebrated the group’s progress, Maria surprised us yet again with remarkable news. This time she had been appointed to the national committee for rural progress.

As part of a collective assessment of our work, Maria gave the following testimonial: “If I had never participated in ArtCorps’ workshops, I would never have discovered my abilities…. Now my public service is recognized by many people. Not only am I a part of the town committee for progress, but I was also elected to represent my district at the state level and, most recently, I have also become our national representative. I meet with public figures and government officials, with the President’s staff, and we come up with projects to benefit [rural communities].

This project was carried out in collaboration with Servicio Jesuita para el Desarrollo and Oxfam America.



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