From September 27 to October 3, 2014, Dominican artists with their colleagues and associates from the United States, Mexico, Argentina, El Salvador, Columbia, and the Caribbean islands assembled in Guatemala City to celebrate a conference entitled: ‘And Dwelt Among Us’: Art, Culture, and Preaching. Among the participants were Kathy Rhody, representing the DIA, and Sister Valeria Nougue, whose friendship with Thoma Swanson inspired her to initiate a Latin American counterpart of the DIA in Venezuela in 2002. Subsequent gatherings were held in Mexico (2008) and Peru (2011). Participants were accommodated in Veritas House, Guatemala City, and held their meetings and workshops “in a marginal school” run by the Dominican Sisters of the Annunciation. According to the organizers of the event, the venue itself was chosen so that “the ministry of beauty can be a source of hope amid the sorrow, of showing the way to God through beauty.”
Like the planners of our U.S. Gatherings, artists in The Dominican Confederation of Latin America and the Caribbean arrange a schedule combining prayer, study, discussion, art exhibits, performances, and workshops for introducing new artistic techniques. One tradition which distinguishes the Latin American gathering is the creation of an original mural on-site during the conference. The process of producing the mural is collaborative and organic— from the choice of content, to sketching preliminary designs, through enlarging the sketches, painting them on canvas panels, attaching these panels to a huge canvas, and adding final colors and details— no one artist predominates. Working side by side throughout the week promotes an instant bond among strangers. The finished artifact remains on the wall as a gift from the artists to the host community. Six years ago in Mexico, the mural was left to adorn the exterior wall of a Dominican monastery.
One of the most memorable features
of the Guatemala event was a unique “field trip” to a land-fill where destitute scavengers survive by sifting through mountains of trash to use, re-purpose, and sell. Nearby is a grade school, Francisco Coll Education Center, founded by the Dominican Sisters of the Annunciation. This free school, which originated in the 1990’s, benefits the whole community when its sixty students go home and teach their parents. Located in a blighted neighborhood, replete with littered alleys, scattershot streets, and makeshift shelters, the site presented quite a challenge as an exhibition space for art.
On the day of the “field trip,” resourceful housewives offered baked goods
imagination. Then in small groups, the Dominican artists engaged the children in making artistic creations with new and recycled materials which the visitors had prepared and brought with them.
During the week, the group had the opportunity to listen to inspiration from Sister Valeria on “Art, Revelation of the Mystery,” and to discuss the inspiration for and from their own artifacts which they had brought to the gathering for this purpose. Of all these activities, are the features which Kathy would most like to see adopted by DIA planners are the outreach into an impoverished community and the collaborative production of an artifacts