In April 2007, the Designmatters initiative at ArtCenter College of Design and CENTRO de diseño, cine y televisión in Mexico City began a project collaboration to document the work of nonprofit group Cihuame based in Veracruz, Mexico.
Since 1995, Cihuame has been providing community assistance in the region through projects that promote economic development, environmental and sustainability strategies, cultural empowerment, gender equity, and family nonviolence.
Guided by Cihuame fieldworkers, the project immersed 12 students, six from ArtCenter’s Photography and Imaging department and six from CENTRO’s Film department, along with one faculty member from each school, into the communities of the indigenous people living in the highlands of Veracruz. Utilizing the established presence and trust formed by Cihuame, students had the opportunity to talk directly to locals and learn more about the community first-hand as they documented what they saw.
In the end, it is estimated that over 12,000 images were shot over this initial two week immersion. These images of women embroidering textiles, farmers cultivating organic honey, and folk artists working on projects, show how the society contributes to building financial sustainability, while reaffirming the importance of culture and community.
By supporting these kinds of programs, Cihuame works towards strengthening the development and sustainability of this society. The Cihuame Project’s goal is to present design as a tool of empowerment and inspiration. This series of intimate images, along with short documentary features that profile each area of work, will be utilized by Cihuame to promote their work within the community and with others who visit the community center or the organization’s website. This documentation project is also a vehicle to raise awareness and promote community development in other places in the world.
In Fall 2007, Art Center’s Photography and Imaging department and CENTRO continue post-production on a joint publication and films which will be shown in exhibitions in Los Angeles and Mexico. The collection of films and photographs work in concert to provide a window into the lives of the Veracruz people while celebrating the positive impact Cihuame has in this community. Ultimately, this project is positioned as an exemplar of the depth of engagement educational institutions can have when they choose to set forth an agenda of international connectivity and social relevance