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Awakening A Culture Of Conservation In Totonicapán-ArtCorps Partnership

Partnership Objective

ArtCorps is introducing technology and art to engage youth in activities that develop leadership while documenting traditional conservation stories and practices from community elders.


As in much of rural Guatemala, people who live in Totonicapán rely heavily on the land for their livelihoods - carpentry, forestry and farming. But Totonicapán is notable for its centuries-old conservation practices, which have protected the world’s largest remaining stand of endangered Guatemalan fir trees. In partnership with EcoLogic and 48 Cantons, ArtCorps is revitalizing indigenous knowledge by inspiring the next generation of leaders to understand, document and continue practicing communal forest management.

The Need

As Totonicapán's Quiché elders continue to age, they face a generational divide and fear collective memory loss. There is no systematized version of how and why to manage the forest in a state of ecological equilibrium, and the rich tapestry of stories that have informed these practices throughout the ages are neither collected nor recorded.

Our Impact

  • 50 ArtCorps-trained Youth Leaders in Conservation from 10 communities are using new creative skills to document the stories and traditions behind successful conservation practices in Totonicapán.
  • 35 teachers from nine schools are replicating the ArtCorps conservation methods with over 1,000 students.
  • A growing sense of ownership and pride in their traditional practices has emerged among community members.


  • Youth Leaders in Conservation: ArtCorps has formed three groups of more than 50 youth from 10 different communities in Totonicapán. Through experiential workshops, these budding environmental stewards develop performing and visual arts skills for engaging and educating their peers. Their accomplishments include an environmental mural in the public meeting house and an art installation in the forest. Their conservation-themed exhibits have been viewed by over 2,250 students. Meet Victor, one of the Youth Leaders in Conservation.
  • Green Week/Green Month: ArtCorps designed this series of creative environmentally-themed activities (from poetry and story slams to a parade, recycling campaign and concert) to raise awareness about conservation throughout the region. Reaching over 3,500 people, this event was such a success that the 48 Cantons board voted to make it an annual tradition and expand its programming from one week to one month!
  • Book about Mayan Environmental and Cultural Heritage Illustrated by Youth: To gather content for their book “The Wisdom of the Rockies,” the Youth Leaders in Conservation attended weekly story circles where elders shared their traditional knowledge. To produce the illustrations, the youth practiced a variety of visual techniques, including sketching in the forest, collage, stamp-making and shadow drawings.
  • Partnering with Schools: Isabel has trained 35 teachers from eight different villages in Art for Social Action methods that they are applying in their classrooms with over 1,000 students. By implementing the arts-based activities developed by ArtCorps, they multiply the number of Youth Leaders in Conservation in the region. The teachers are also integrating creative methods into their regular lesson plans to invigorate the rural education system. Read about one of the ArtCorps workshops for teachers.
  • Strengthening Local Water Management: Isabel trained 60 local officials from the water committees and members of the 48 Cantons board in new ways to mobilize their constituents to protect their natural resources.  Read about a workshop with the 48 Cantons board.

2012-2013: Isabel Carrió is a visual artist from Argentina in her third year with ArtCorps. In 2011, she applied her painting, sculpture and photography talents to enrich FUNDENOR’s education and outreach, and now she continues to incorporate Mayan culture into her leadership development work with 48 Cantons.

The teachers’ response to the ArtCorps workshops has been incredible. They are well-respected leaders and role models who grew up in the region where they teach, and they are applying their new creative skills not only in their classrooms but in all of the community spheres where they participate. ~ARTCORPS ARTIST ISABEL CARRIÓ

2011: Andrea Shigeko Landin is a classically trained musician and poet from the US who launched this project.

Our Partners

The 48 Cantons of Totonicapán is a centuries-old Maya-Quiché governing body responsible for managing the natural resources of the villages surrounding the Los Altos de San Miguel Forest. EcoLogic Development Fund has been working with 48 Cantons to introduce new conservation methods and reinvigorate indigenous ones.

"I arrived lacking in so many aspects, but before the end of the three days, the harvest was abundance. The training has completely shaped and enriched me with a world of knowledge and creative skills that will not only be useful to my organization, but for the communities where we work. My sincere thanks and appreciation to the facilitators who, in just three days, were able transform me from a leader to a creative leader." - Dr. Felix Lawir, Director, Nature Care Cameroon

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