Archive | October 2012

Center for Art & Design: Renovating Room 1 in 3 Steps


Build Cement Block Walls


Paint Walls with White Cement


Outline and Paint Murals

BEFORE: Center for Art & Design


We’re lucky that Fundación Neo Juventud has the perfect space for the new Art & Design Center. We are busy transforming what was once an office, a general meeting room, and a gym. The president of the foundation was nice enough to offer even more space to this project. Some friends of Neo broke through one wall and constructed a second one to make room for the new media lab so the final space will be L-shaped with a door in between. Paul has special plans for the entryway, which he will explain later. Click on the panorama above for a larger view.

Thanks to Starbucks and the International Youth Foundation (see previous post about the award here), we are able to purchase computers, furniture, supplies, books, paint, and cameras to outfit the space. The youth are helping with all aspects of the build from cleaning to painting to constructing furniture. We feel so fortunate to be able to work with such a dynamic and enthusiastic group of young people. I can’t wait to start classes!


Food, Glorious Food!


I guess I was right when I said that I would miss hot showers and food from home the most (besides people of course). When we lived in Brooklyn we were totally spoiled eating a different type of food every night for dinner. I still cooked when we lived in New York (not every meal like I do now) but it wasn’t the same. Not only did we have a kitchen with all modern conveniences but we had access to diverse markets, stores, and whole neighborhoods where we could buy specialty foods like Vietnamese rice paper wrappers, tamarind paste, and Indian spices.

That being said, with constraints comes creativity. Despite the lack of some resources (thanks to everyone who has been sending us food through the mail!) we have been able to continue experimenting with new dishes. My mom would be proud that I have been making fritatas on the stove and can finish them off in our new toaster oven. I made Pad Thai twice and the second time was the charm as I replaced vinegar for tamarind paste and soy sauce for fish sauce. We actually found sprouts and although it wasn’t as good as my favorite Thai place in Brooklyn, it was a little taste of home!

We were also excited to find fresh artichokes at the supermarket in the big city near us. I made an artichoke dip and served it with our new favorite chips – whole wheat pita chips we also found at the supermarket. Finally, I am most proud of the Masamun Curry (another Thai dish) I pulled off the other night. All it took was some coconut milk and creative spice replacements and it was almost as good as in NYC.

Happy cooking, Mari

Thanks Starbucks & International Youth Foundation!


We have some AMAH-ZING news to share…
Fundación Neo Juventud is proud to announce that we have received a 2012 Starbucks Shared Planet Youth Action Grant from the International Youth Foundation.

Neo Juventud is among 19 youth-led projects to receive a 2012 grant award through the Starbucks Youth Action Grants program.

Our project entitled, “Design for Good,” was chosen through a competition established in 2008 by the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and Starbucks in order to make grants available to young leaders who have participated in YouthActionNet® fellowship programs. YouthActionNet® strengthens and scales up the impact of youth-led social ventures around the world. To learn more about the Starbucks Youth Action Grants program, visit their site.

I was lucky enough to be a 2008 YouthActionNet® Global Fellow as the founder of Starting Artists, Inc. where I met some of the most incredible and inspirational people in the world.

Design for Good is an incredible opportunity for the youth of Neo Juventud and for Palmar as a whole. I will be teaching teenagers how to provide creative services to local businesses in order to encourage community-based tourism to the area and to teach students how to be creative and entrepreneurial. The youth will receive training, stipends, and ongoing classes for a year and the businesses will benefit from printed materials, photography and video services, and web design. The students will even make Palmar’s first printed map and website.

I’ll be teaching everything from photography to video to graphic design just like at Starting Artists! Paul will teach business, entrepreneurship, and engineering basics. He’s especially excited to have a science club where students will conduct experiments in a fun environment.

We’re done with the construction phase of the physical Art & Design Center where we will teach all of these classes and now we’re in the middle of decorating (my favorite). At the end of the month we will host the Neo Juventud Halloween Party and then an official Grand Opening party in mid-November. I’ll be sharing lots of photos soon.

Enjoy, Mari


No News is Good News!


As you can see, Max is super excited to share lots of good news soon. It’s been a while since I posted because my computer was in the shop for two weeks (!) and our internet connectivity has been spotty. Actually, we arrived to our site before internet did. While it was available at select internet cafés in our town, internet hadn’t reached private homes until recently and it’s not exactly reliable. It definitely makes us appreciate when it’s working again.

So, what have we been doing with all that free time we’re not spending online? We have used the extra time to work on a new Art & Design Center! More details tomorrow on how this project came to be, but our inauguration is set for mid-November so stay tuned as we share renovation photos, lesson plans, and inspiration.


This is What Creativity Looks Like

The other day I was reading articles on Zite (an awesome personalized magazine application that compiles articles from multiple sources according to your taste) and three of them ended up being about creativity. Not really a shocker considering one of my key search terms is “creativity” (although it is strange that three articles showed up in such close proximity since there are several dozen key search terms) but I thought it was interesting because each of the authors takes a unique approach to the idea of creativity and I pretty much agree with each one.

I was especially elated to read the article by Rebecca Wallace-Segall, the founder and executive director of Writopia Lab (a former partner organization to Starting Artists) and a very inspiring lady. I have excerpted parts of the articles below. Click on the article title to go to the full text.

Enjoy, Mari


The No. 1 Enemy of Creativity: Fear of Failure

by Peter Sims

Harvard Business Review Blog

For me, the most important insight from design thinking was that you have to make sure you’ve defined the right problem before you try to solve it. So, you act like an anthropologist to understand human needs and problems before jumping to solutions. Most of us in business, if we need to discover how to do something new, use PowerPoint or Excel spreadsheets to rationalize our approach. This is what I call “the illusion of rationality.” Whether motivated by a lack of insight arrogance, or stupidity, the illusion of rationality is a waste of time and resources — yet one that keeps a lot of people employed in management consulting, as I learned first hand.

Instead, if you don’t have the data, you have to create the data. That does not mean plugging random numbers into your spreadsheet. It means generating real insight, from nothing. Designers and bootstrapped entrepreneurs I’ve worked with use rapid low cost experiments to create data. I refer to these “affordable losses” in the interest of learning, creativity, and discovery as “little bets.”

This seems like common sense; so why is it so hard? Three words: fear of failure.

If you’re an MBA-trained manager or executive, the odds are you were never, at any point in your educational or professional career given permission to fail, even on a “little bet.” Your parents wanted you to achieve, achieve, achieve — in sports, the classroom, and scouting or work. Your teachers penalized you for having the “wrong” answers, or knocked your grades down if you were imperfect, according to however your adult figures defined perfection. Similarly, modern industrial management is still predicated largely on mitigating risks and preventing errors, not innovating or inventing.

But entrepreneurs and designers think of failure the way most people think of learning. As Darden Professor Saras Sarasvathy has shown through her research about how expert entrepreneurs make decisions, they must make lots of mistakes to discover new approaches, opportunities, or business models. She frequently references Howard Schultz who, when he started Il Giornale in Seattle, the company that Schultz used to later buy the original Starbucks brand and assets, the store had nonstop opera music playing, menus written in Italian, and no chairs. As Schultz has often said, “We had to make a lot of mistakes” before discovering a model that worked.

One Is Not Enough: Why Creative People Need Multiple Outlets

by and


For as long as I can remember, I’ve associated creative pursuits with other activities. In every class from kindergarten through college, my head was always down as I listened to entire lesson plans while doodling superheroes, 3D cubes, and stylized words. I created logos for bands that didn’t exist, bands that did exist, comic books I wanted to make, and movies I wanted to film. Teachers often assumed I was ignoring them when I was drawing, constantly asking why I found the blank page in front of me more interesting than their lessons. But these doodles weren’t a distraction, they were a core part of my learning process, visual evidence that I was taking information in. Finding a way to put mark on the learning process made me feel like a better student.

Fortunately, my coworkers understand the concept of auditory learning, because I didn’t stop doodling after I left school. During any meeting at the GOOD office, I’m drawing faces, hands high-fiving, the words “DOPE,” “FRESH,” “HOLLA,” and “WHOA,” and more. A lot more. I try to contain my work to sketchbooks, but I’ll settle for scrap paper, napkins, or paper cups. I doom a lot of objects to a decorative demise.

Of course, doodling isn’t a substitute for another creative pursuit, and it doesn’t fully silence my gnawing need to constantly make things. Only diversity of form can solve that problem. That might mean non-design related artistic pursuits like making music, writing, or performing—or non-artistic yet brain-stimulating projects like gardening, building, or even playing a game of D&D (a pursuit I have yet to take up, but I’m told would fit the bill).


A Passionate, Unapologetic Plea for Creative Writing in Schools

by Rebecca Wallace-Segall

from The Atlantic

In our work, we’re reminded again and again that fiction writing is as important as any other genre for children and teens as they learn to write. It not only provides them with a safe space to make sense of the human dynamics around them, but it teaches them writing at the highest level, going beyond lucidity into the realm of literary tension, and then further into humor, narrative complexity, abstraction, and metaphor.

Our writers put arguments forth, embedded within well-organized, linear narratives in various voices. The themes of their fiction then inspire the deepest of dialogues in the classroom, spur debates about race and class assumptions and other social issues, and invite empathy. As we like to say at Writopia, plot builds character. This type of dynamic discourse helps our students grow as people and thinkers — and of course, as writers.

And, on top of it all, it’s engaging. When we work with students on creative pieces, they become riveted by their stories before the end of the first lesson. Children with class-based literacy issues love trying their hand at fiction; elite children of famous authors love it as well. Students across America should write fiction before anything else, and they should continue to work on it side-by-side with academic writing. They should be given creative assignments as a reward for writing a fabulous research paper.

What’s more, a piece of fiction can be persuasive, and a memoir can be informative. Educators who are serious about this kind of writing make sure each piece is workshopped until it is compelling. And honest. And revealing of human nature. And sometimes funny, but always surprisingly complex to the outsider.

ABC, As Easy As…

What’s more basic than the ABCs? One of my favorite projects to do with students is to ask them to create their own alphabets. Sometimes that means crafting them from whatever supplies are around like the example above. The letters of Starting Artists were created by my students out of newspaper, plastic cups, fabric, spray paint, tissue paper flowers, cardboard, and wood.

Another example of an alphabet project we did at SA is below in video form. My students went on a photo safari to find the alphabet in our neighborhood in Brooklyn. I’m looking forward to doing a similar project with the kids at Neo Juventud soon. I was inspired to share these ABC examples because I recently came across artist Megan Hyland’s typographic movie poster alphabet on Flavorwire – some of my favorite examples are below.

Enjoy, Mari 




By Megan Hyland




Celebrate Good Times!


Looking toward the month ahead I realize that we have a lot of reasons to celebrate. Here’s a rundown of all of the great things Paul and I have to appreciate in October.



Paul and I wish you a year full of travels, stories, good books, good food, and good people. You have become a part of our family and we miss our visits with you catching up over brunches and barbecues. Before we know it we’ll be sitting in a booth at Cabot’s telling you our Peace Corps tales. Until then…we love you!


Don’t worry, I’m not going to say your age…although it wouldn’t matter because you haven’t slowed down and I admire you for that. You are committed to making the world a better place not just for your family but for those who don’t have one. You continue to inspire me every single day and Paul and I wish you a year full of energetic outings with Sam, Talia & Jack!


One of my oldest and dearest friends I am so excited that we’re going to be official pen pals with your class, which means we’ll be talking more often. I am SO happy to see you back in a classroom where you can mold young hearts and minds to grow up to be enthusiastic, caring, and talented individuals just like you! We wish you a year full of smiles and photo-ops.


Tals…I heard you were telling Mommy and Daddy that you used to live with me and Paul in a yellow house. I wish we could live together in a yellow house where we could play “Hide the sock monkey,” jump on the trampoline, and decorate cookies together all the time. We miss you SO much but we love seeing all of the photos that Mommy sends. Keep being the beautiful and smart girl that you are.


Sarah & Jon

Happy 9 Years! Can you believe it’s almost been a decade of wedded bliss? We’re so glad that we had a chance to spend quality time with you two before we left. You are an inspiration to us as we continue to grow as a couple. You have made a gorgeous family and you should be proud. Maybe next year you can celebrate the big 1-0 in Ecuador!

Mari & Paul

Congrats to us on completing 6 months in our site. It feels like just yesterday we were arriving sleep deprived and dirty from the bus terminal in Guayaquil. They say that time flies when you’re having fun…well, we must be having the best time of our lives! Here’s to another year and a half full of laughter, visits from friends and family, successful projects, and not sweating the small stuff.

Have a great month everyone! Mari

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