Earlier this month I spent an inspiring week in Paraguay with Joe Giménez and Gustavo Diaz of El Cántaro. El Cántaro consists of two programs, a gallery for the sale of local and indigenous crafts and a free school, where students of all ages can gain access to knowledge of the arts, technology, and sustainability at no cost. Both programs seek to transform their community and celebrate its heritage.
The school and gallery are based in two distinct locations in Areguá, a medium sized town about 1-1.5hrs by bus from Paraguay’s capital city Asunción. Areguá is a lovely town of stately old homes, green spaces, and charming restaurants, with beautiful views from its town center of Lake Ypacaraí.
Interestingly, Areguá is also a city known both for its agriculture (strawberries, principally) and for its crafts. However, in recent years, many of its businesses have transitioned to chemical-based agriculture and the lake has been polluted by industry. Meanwhile, a number of artisans have turned to commodified craft production, with dozens of stalls of local ceramics largely portraying the same cartoonish themes. El Cántaro is a bright spot in both respects.
El Cántaro Almacén de Arte (the gallery) has as its aim the celebration and support of the individual artists whose work it sells at a just price. What appears within its walls are diverse as a result. Some artists are indigenous tribes who sell as a collective, while others are urban individuals of global renown. The works themselves include expertly carved wood pieces, textile arts, paintings, and ceramics. Alongside each artist’s display of work is a placard sharing more information about their background and influences.
El Cántaro BioEscuela Popular (the school) was constructed by the community almost entirely from recycled materials. There is a large classroom for classes such as guitar or crafts, a spacious yard, and a library. The library consists of hundreds of books on history, society, and politics alongside a computer lab, free to public use and where classes on technology are also held. One of very few free schools in the region (despite the tradition of “popular schools” in Latin America) it draws hundreds of curious young people and adults alike. It has also become a convening place for the idealists of Areguá, drawn in by its spirit of sustainability and community.
It was exciting to experience both of these programs in daily life and to see Areguá and Paraguay through El Cántaro’s lens. Joe and Gustavo have more wonderful things planned for El Cántaro’s future and I’m excited to see them achieve them in the same spirit of dedication and generosity.