Friday, November 03, 2006

Sustainability and Silk-screening

Part of the sustainable work I was hoping to implement with la JEM included a t-shirt making business. Because of its isolated location, Tacaná has few fashionable clothing options, and I hoped to provide witty and popular environmental silk-screened t-shirts. We began with the JEM logo, and for a short period of time members of la JEM came to help with the tedious job of printing. After printing around 40 we began selling, with much success, but then no one came to print anymore. Because the work I do here is collaborative I decided not to print the remaining t-shirts by myself. July was a difficult personal month, and I wasn’t around much. When I returned, la JEM was about to embark on a program with Empresarios Juveniles, a non-profit aimed at teaching youth the world of business. La JEM was given the opportunity to create four small experimental businesses.

I suggested starting a t-shirt silk-screening company. It seemed like a perfect fit because of the market, because we had extra supplies and because I was there to support the creative process. I was thrilled at this possibility that I could create sustainable work with the business aspect entirely supported by another organization. But the jóvenes passed off on the idea for whatever reason. I continued attending a few Empresarios Juveniles meetings, but my presence wasn’t wanted, so I butted out. Later, I was told that the four companies had merged into three; two planned on creating cafés, while the third was going to produce, package, and market a tea.

Last week I showed up to the presentation of the products, and I found that the two cafés had merged into one and that the third company is a t-shirt silk-screening business. They had three or four basic text designs on dozens of t-shirts. I learned that their plan is not only to sell t-shirts, but all kinds of art, including paintings and handicrafts.

This group has a professional artist working for them—dying to help them—and yet they said nothing and didn’t ask for help. I don’t understand.

The particulars of working collaboratively can be difficult. It’s probable the t-shirt business would never have occurred without my initiative in making JEM t-shirts and in suggesting it for a model company. But without the extra creative angle the product fell flat, and during their product presentation the group sold few t-shirts. Persuading your partner that you can be of assistance is difficult. Collaboration must start from the very beginning and both partners must be on the same page, understanding that they’re going into an experience where their expectations may not be fulfilled. La JEM didn’t understand the mission of ArtCorps and thus was confused during the first few months of my residency. Because their expectations didn’t come to full bloom and they never got comfortable with the new mission, I often times feel like I’m the only one collaborating.

I talked to the head of the t-shirt company to offer my help. I told him I leave in three weeks, but that I would be happy to do a day or two silk-screening and design workshop. He seemed very interested and appreciative, but now my time has come down to a week and a half. He still hasn’t called.


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