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  • Words and Photos by John Domine and Kristy Calabro

Akumal's Kids: A Gift of Art and Smiles

The Akumal Arts Festival, in Mexico's Riviera Maya, is in full swing...literally.

With the help of Abby Pressberg who worked with the students in the community to paint wooden boards to make columpios, there are now dozens of swings scattered across the pueblo for the children to enjoy. And if their faces are any indication, los niños de Akumal are having an absolute blast with all the new functional art in town.



Even before the festivities began, the children were treated to works by artists from around the world who wanted to contribute to the beauty of their village.

Taking a break from his honeymoon, Justin Suarez (aka Mr. Prvrt) painted a caracara, Mexico's national bird, in Akumal, all the while surrounded by children eager to watch a master at work.

Artist Jonathan Villoch (aka Depoh), took this enthusiasm a step further and recruited the help of the neighborhood kids to paint the steps of La Cancha, the basketball court in the center of town. Paying homage to the Mayan pyramids, Aaron, Joaquim and Abraham analyzed the stencils used to form the geometric patterns and worked hour after hour to complete the multi-tiered, 100-foot wide stadium seating, under Villoch's direction. The results were nothing short of stunning.

In addition, over 1,000 banderas, or flags, were painted in preparation of the festival. Students from Hekab Be Biblioteca, the Akumal public schools and the Otoch Paal Montessori all worked on the banderas to help decorate various areas in the pueblo. Each one is unique, and each holds its own beauty and pride.

Leading up to this weekend, the students were also treated to a life-sized puppet performance by Maruja Ambulante at their school. At the Opening Ceremonies, the rest of the pueblo were regaled by the humor and grace of this marioneta brought to life.



Designing their own costumes to wear for their dance, singing and instrumental performances, the children beamed with pride at their hard work, knowing that people traveled from all over the world to be here in their beautiful pueblo and to join in the celebration.



All weekend long, artists led workshops to teach the kids everything from mask-making to graffiti lettering to basic spray paint skills. The kids were thrilled to try their hand at these projects, and the artists were more than happy to share their wealth of knowledge.

Maruja Ambulante led a Mask-Making class in the community center.

Damien Mitchell hosted a spray paint workshop in the park.

Registered Artist, "RA", worked with the children to create stenciled butterflies to accompany his piece on the main road. Here, a local girl is posing in front of the wall wearing an embroidered floral dress for her performance in the traditional dance.

Olas from the United Kingdom gave an all-ages graffiti lettering workshop in the community center.



Whether children prepared for the festivities or joined in on workshops over the weekend, they all shared the common sentiment of joy, to be participating in such a wonderful event, while beautifying the pueblo they call home.



In this small village south of Cancun, the children just received a huge gift by artists who wanted to bring some beauty and color to their walls. In return, the children shared the beauty of their smiles and the color of their spirits to share with the artists. I am not sure who was the bigger winner, but I do know that everyone was transformed by the experience.

Akumal is indeed a very special place.

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