I spent twenty years in Edinburgh, a stunning museum of a city, intent on selling off its remaining artist’s studios to make way for more ‘luxury’ flats. I had a metal art workshop, and a job teaching young children to solder lie detectors. I had lovely friends and I spent a part of my year volunteering. But it was all too safe, so six years ago I left my anvil and moved to South America.
After two years in Mexico working in recycled design and a few detours along the way, I set up a recycled design project in Quito, Ecuador. I’ve always had too many ideas and no funding so when I met with a retired Edinburgh finance friend in Argentina who was willing to look for funds, I started working alongside a children’s NGO in Ecuador. The NGO had a lot of space and donated machines. Many women without work wanted to be involved, and an almost non-existent/outdated production program began.
From the start, the idea was always to make sure the design was good, provide the women with dignified work, and bring in money for children’s education projects. The feel-good factors of recycled design and empowering women create the added bonus back-story that helps sell the products.
Setting up a project in South America is not for the faint-hearted. Cliché though it is, everything does move at a different rate here and letting go of expectations that people will turn up for meetings or reply to emails is definitely part of the day to day challenge. A year and a half without getting paid was also very challenging even when used to the instability of artistic life. Expecting the women to understand the modern, Western design market has given them and me a few laughs.
The flipside of the relaxed attitude to punctuality and business is that I have an access to government offices. We now have the Ministry of Solid Waste involved in giving us their office paper to recycle. At the moment I have mostly turned into a bureaucrat putting systems into place so that when funding runs out in September and I return to the UK, the project is sustainable. Starting a project in a way is the easy part — identify the need, find solutions, put them into place. Keeping the project going is a much bigger challenge.
You can read more details of the project on our website EmpoweringWomeninEcuador.com which also explains how to become an in-country volunteer.
There are many ways you can help in your own country:
We often have small graphic design jobs we need done in Illustrator.
We are looking for entry into overseas markets for fair-trade, design and ecological shops, if you know of possible outlets for the products, please get in touch.
We are looking for donations of print designs that we can use on our greetings cards (either to fit in with our existing range or if you have a new idea). All artists will have a photo and contact on our webpage and any designs used on the cards will have a contact for the artist on the card.
We are looking for contacts with universities and art colleges who can advertise our need for their graduates to volunteer in the fields of art/design and marketing/sales. Also people who could spend some time writing to these educational bodies in their countries. (I can provide form letters and fliers to put on noticeboards).
Anyone interested in funding our ideas in Mexico can get in touch here.