Lauren Elder
Environmental Artist working in community
Guest Artist: La Vida es un Teatro in Nashira 2009, 2010

“Butterflies Eat First” (2010)
Inspired by the relative success of the first project, Veronica and I agreed to undertake a second, more modest contribution to the children’s play area. Funding was available to consider the design of a small garden that could serve as an educational resource, stimulating the children to observe, taste, touch, smell, write about and draw the plant materials. We wished to feature plants that have both medicinal and culinary uses. As we were relying on donations from Plantas Selectas, a excellent source of ornamentals, we quickly discovered that the selection of edibles was too limited to realize this concept.
Once again, dancing on the edge of time, we did a quick change of direction and responded by choosing a range of plants that appeal to butterflies. Colombia hosts one of the world’s largest and most varied population of butterflies, so I was delighted by the “obligation” to redirect my attention.
Butterflies have one set of needs: fluffy flowers that readily supply nectar. Caterpillars have another set of needs: host plants that will provide them with leafy material that will nourish them through the pupa stage. While I am reasonably knowledgeable about the plants that meet these conditions in the Northern Hemisphere, I had to become a “quick study” for the Tropics. I trust that our choices will attract butterflies but more work needs to be done about selecting and planting the hosts.
Once again we offered two art workshops for the children to solicit active participation in the project design. In the first meeting I arranged them in groups of 3 and asked them to draw “mini-murals” on the theme of “What’s in My World?” I was curious to see what interested them most about their physical environment. All of the drawings featured clouds and rain, witnessing the torrential downpours of the previous week that had greened the fields and also slowed our progress. They depicted a rich and happy world full of flowers, farm animals, and human connection.
The second day I tried to communicate a more difficult concept: mapping. Imagine you are a bird flying over the earth and looking down. I showed many examples of local garden design and asked them to identify the shapes: ovals, circles, lines, S curves, squares. I asked them to draw/collage the shape of a garden that appealed to them.
Imagine you are a bird flying over the earth and looking down.
This conceptual exercise proved to be challenging for adults as well as children. Finally I asked the children to draw a butterfly. We jumped ahead a step and started “drawing” on the ground with sticks. Aha! The Moms were delighted with the butterfly as a form so we stayed with it.
The third workday was challenging. Less than 10 women were committed to the process, but they worked like mules. Good dirt had to be hauled from a distant site under banana trees, using battered wheelbarrows that often broke down. By the end of the day we were all sweaty, tired, frustrated. We had great moral and physical support from Andrea Sutton and Fernando, an architect from UNIVALLE.
Determined to finish the project, we scheduled a final work day. The dynamic changed as a group of local boys arrived and worked with great enthusiasm alongside some of the local men. A few women also returned. A tropical downpour gave everyone a delightful break and lifted spirits. The planting was accompanied by lots of laughter, teasing and joking.
We gave ourselves an applause and congratulations on a lovely outcome.
Don Daniel will purchase mulch and fasten the logs in place with steel stakes. Hopefully the showers will continue and the butterfly form with fill with color and teem with pollinators!
In the meantime, the children have their artwork to enjoy and a selection of pens to continue drawing.

While this project was comparatively “easier” than the play structure, the process was far more challenging. The lack of reliable tools and the reluctance of many to participate raised a barrage of questions. Some of the women were frank in discussing their discouragement at the slowness of the overall community building process, the uncertainty of the outcome. Many are so financially limited that they must wait – and hope. Many promises are made and only some materialize. At the forefront of my thoughts was the difficulty of cross-cultural and cross-class accord. When we are resource-rich, it is hard to comprehend why it may be so very, very difficult to organize a tool loan and conversely, the women of Nashira must see us as “exotic birds”, free to dream and fly in worlds that are closed to them. A significant accord would have to emerge slowly, carefully after a long time of trust-building. I can only hope that the garden will bring some pleasure and hint at a way of perceiving that is not measured only by the cost of bus fare. I hope the children will draw and write and see their images reflected back to them from the garden itself.