They started to interact with the local community to design and manufacture decorative artworks almost entirely from recyclable materials such as used wood, wood reclaimed from old houses, cans, paper, etc. Toti trained a group of craftsmen, getting them to produce pieces of art according to his designs as they learned each technique. No design was exact; each craftsman gave to the pieces a little of their own identity. Locals who only had agriculture and cattle breeding as a living saw their lives change through art.
Then they started a program to teach youngsters arts and craftsmanship to ensure new craftsmen come in to revitalize their production. The whole area is bubbling over with arts and crafts as people learn from and inspire each other, try new things and develop new techniques. And the tourist trade they attract from the Sao Paolo area means they can make a living at it. Today, some 150 craftsmen work directly or indirectly in this project attracting thousands of tourists to the town and its surrounding villages each year.
All along the road you meet shop after shop selling their own variants of the local handiwork, and throughout the area, hotels, shops and boarding houses as well as private houses are adorned with this local, colourful art.
Toti is a visionary but not without a sense of humour and play. Throughout the prolific production you see a love of life and nature, a reverence for living things, a ”don’t take yourself too seriously” playfulness and flourishes of colour.
And he is a visionary in the sustainability sense too. Oficina de Agosto won the prize Prêmio Planeta Casa 2004, the award from Editora Abril and Casa Claudia for the companies that best promote the conservation of nature and sustainable development.
Just visiting the area, the first temptation is to buy a lot of artworks for your wall at home, and the second temptation is to get going to create some for yourself. The whole area exudes contagious creativity and entrepreneurship. But it goes deeper. My visit to the area got me reflecting on eco-village communities and communities in general. Involving the community in producing art to adorn the homes of inhabitants and tourists is not just an economic exercise. It has a deeper, cultural meaning. Vibrant, ingenious, playful, insightful art is a cultural expression. It states “here in this place we have time to appreciate life, our situation allows us time to create beauty. There is no lack of the basics here”.
The art, in reflecting what is appreciated and enjoyed even acts to express aspiration. It says “we aspire to happiness, to abundance, to happy, dancing, harmonious people”.
In fact, Toti has given us a clue to how we can be part of creating a healthy, healing culture: to set up workshops and involve the community in producing art. Invite people who would otherwise not have the opportunity to learn handicraft techniques and to try their creativity.
The objects and themes you choose can reflect your community’s appreciation of what you have, and your aspiration to what you see would be healthy and healing.
Toti gives us another clue to developing a sustainable, resilient culture: once you start producing things by hand, be it crafts or houses, people learn from each other, and the young people learn too. Just as the techniques of arts and crafts spread to a whole region, so too could the techniques of natural building and organic food production spread.
Start saving materials, gather your tools and go get some paint and visit Totis website to get into a playful, creative mood. The transition to a creative, sustainable and resilient world awaits you.