Concrete Park Co-creators Tony Puryear, Erika Alexander and Robert Alexander brought a little piece of the future to Central America as they took their Concrete Park Earth Tour to Belize for a series of Comic Book Clinics and to kick off a nation-wide Comic Book Competition for Schools.
From October 26 through October 29th, 2012 Team Concrete Park staged five clinics for high school and college students in Belize City, in Placencia, in San Ignacio and Belmopan, in venues from the University of Belize to high school art classrooms to the enormous stage of the famous Bliss Institute. We also appeared on the nationally televised Open Your Eyes morning show to promote the clinics and the competition.
Why teach the basics of comic book creation in a country of 300,000, a country where comics are not even for sale? Why encourage school kids to try and to compete in this medium? Erika Alexander explains: “Whether you live in the first world or the developing world, ideas are the most valuable currency there is. Our message is that your story is unique and valuable. Pencils and paper are cheap, and comics, whether self-printed or self-published on the web are a simple, accessible medium for expressing ideas in stories. In teaching comics creation, we are also teaching storytelling, business skills, entrepreneurship and connectivity.”
Tony Puryear adds: “The kids we met in Belize didn’t have many of the things their counterparts in America take for granted. Some of their families can barely afford books or school supplies, but they all had something I’ve seen in kids everywhere, a burning desire to express themselves, to connect, to matter. Though Belize is relatively poor, the kids there still have an opportunity to reach a global audience with their stories. There is a cell phone for every man, woman and child in the country, and they are beginning to explore the powerful mobile platform that’s already in their pockets.”
The trip was a learning experience for the Concrete Park creators, too. Robert Alexander says: “In Belize, when you tell your family you want to be an artist, you get a sad look. This is a country where, for generations, being an ‘artist’ has all too often meant being the man or woman in the tourist village selling painted souvenirs. Things are changing, though. The kids we met seemed really interested in the larger potential for their drawings, their stories, their films, to reach outside their towns and neighborhoods. They were more media-savvy than we expected; they upended some of our assumptions, and our next clinics will be better thanks to them.”
What is the Concrete Park Earth Tour, and why begin in Belize of all places? The Concrete Park Earth Tour is a journey of exploration designed to spread the fun and challenge of comic book storytelling to communities around the globe where comics have not reached. This may entail traveling to and teaching in poor communities in mega-cities like Rio De Janeiro or Mumbai, it may also mean teaching drawing and storytelling skills to girls and young women in places where that has not been traditional practice.
Belize was first on our agenda simply because there was a need (arts education is slim to non-existent) and we were invited. In many ways it was a good place to learn as we went. Unique among the region’s countries, Belize’s heritage is British-colonial and its primary language is English, which made our first efforts to present our clinic easy. Belize is justly proud of its multi-ethnic stew of a populace, with its Kriols, its Garifuna peoples, its Maya, Mestizos, Indians and Chinese. Everywhere we went, we saw faces that made us stop and say “He looks like Concrete Park, or she looks like Concrete Park.”
The population in Belize is the youngest and fastest-growing in Central America. The kids we met, at the high school and at the college level, seemed genuinely curious and engaged, and we had a series of great dialogues with them after the main portion of the clinics ended.
Thanks: The Belize Diaspora Network (BDN) in the person of Bruce Henry, a Belizean living in the US, started the ball rolling for this trip, and we thank him. Laura Frampton, Alyssa Carnegie and Andrea Polanco at the Belize Tourism Board gave key support, and Suzette Zayden of NICH, the National Institute of Culture and History also paved the way for our trip. We thank them as well. We also wish to thank The Radisson Fort George Hotel in Belize City, Robert’s Grove Beach Resort in Placencia and The San Ignacio Hotel for their hospitality and their kind support.