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Art Beyond the Wall intern Tyler Eveland of Guilford (right) will puppeteer a 15-foot tall puppet like this one, which he helped to raise head and shoulders above the U.S.-Mexico border wall in May 2019, together with Art Beyond the Wall Executive Artistic Director and co-founder Jess Kaufman (left), at a free information sharing evening with Art Beyond the Wall at the Guilford Art Center on Friday, Feb. 7. (Photo courtesy of Tyler Eveland )
16-year-old Tyler Eveland is in his second year interning with Art Beyond the Wall. (Photo courtesy Tyler Eveland )
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At age 16, Tyler Eveland likely has had more exposure than most of his Guilford neighbors to the experiences of “borderlanders”—young people living in areas divided by the wall at the U.S. and Mexico border.
Tyler is now in his second year interning with Art Beyond the Wall || Más Allá del Muro, which is based in the border communities of Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. This week, Tyler’s excited to help share this organization’s remarkable story with his hometown, as well as one of the 15-foot tall puppets he’s helped to raise head and shoulders above the border wall separating the two Nogales communities.
On Friday, Feb. 7, the public is invited to a free information sharing evening with Art Beyond the Wall || Más Allá del Muro from 6 to 8 p.m. in the gallery at Guilford Art Center (GAC). The event is being presented in collaboration with GAC and with the support of GAC Executive Director Maureen Belden. Tyler’s bringing along some notable friends: among them Flor, a spectacularly tall puppet, and Art Beyond the Wall Executive Artistic Director and co-founder Jess Kaufman, who will host the event.
As Jess describes it, “our organization creates bi-national art programs with giant, 15-foot tall puppets to explore cultural identity with young borderlanders. The puppets amplify their voices, encourage empathy and respect for our neighbors, and offer a positive, authentic counterpoint to negative narratives about life in the borderlands.”
The Guilford visit marks the first of several small-scale events that will occur around the country.
“Because we’re starting to grow, one of the big focuses is expanding the reach of our audience,” says Kaufman. “Our mission is to amplify the voice of these kids that live at the border, and the more people we reach, the more those voices are amplified, and the more people that have access to a truthful perspective.”
Art Beyond the Wall was founded in 2017 as a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. As an international group, Art Beyond the Wall is made up of a collaboration of artists and organizers from the U.S., Mexico, and Canada.
As a Connecticut native (now based in New York) working with an intern who’s also from her home state, Kaufman says Guilford is the perfect place to initiate small-scale efforts to expand the organization’s reach. On Feb. 7, guests will be greeted as they arrive by Tyler, who will be puppeteering Flor, one of 14 wall-scaling puppets built by Art Beyond the Wall.
“We’ll have two big puppets with us,” says Kaufman. “We’ll have Tyler walking around, puppeteering Flor, our original prototype puppet, and a second, dismantled puppet so people can see it up close, because they’re quite tall.”
“All of the puppets are made out of recycled materials, like they have plastic water bottles [for hands],” Tyler adds. “And the faces are more detailed, so their expression gives them personality. Flor’s expression is joyful.”
For Tyler, who is very involved in theater at Hopkins School in New Haven, where he’s a sophomore, the experience of manipulating a gigantic puppet definitely has added another layer to his performance skills.
“It’s really cool, because I’ve never worked with puppets,” says Tyler, who learned the craft when he joined Art Beyond the Wall’s May 2019 festival at the Nogales Arizona/Sonora border.
“Doing a public performance like that was so outside my comfort zone and different. Walking around and moving the hands was really cool,” he says. “I think, especially since I love theater, I’ve never viewed it from that perspective. I’ve always been on the stage. So it was really cool to be out walking the streets in downtown Nogales with the puppet on my shoulders.”
Tyler worked closely with Kaufman and other volunteers at the border during the four days he spent helping with the festival. This spring, he hopes to help out at the festival as a volunteer working on the Mexican side of the border, he says.
Making First Connections
Tyler started interning with Art Beyond the Wall in December 2018 as a freshman, through an outreach opportunity extended by Kaufman, a Hopkins alumnae. In addition to providing remote services ranging from assisting with marketing across social media platforms to researching grant opportunities, one of the first tasks Tyler was given was helping to foster the organization’s bi-national high school pen pal program.
“It’s basically a weekly chat where they email each other and keep in contact, and become friends with someone from the other side that they didn’t know,” says Tyler. “They also would meet up with each other at the border and talk to each other in person there.”
When Tyler traveled to Arizona, he got to meet some of the teens he’d brought together.
“On the day of the festival, it was so rewarding, because some of the kids helped us with the festival,” says Tyler. “So when I was at the border, I got to see kids I’ve emailed on the Mexico side and the other kids on the U.S. side, just talking and laughing and singing. It was another great experience, showing how they are unified despite the border. I think it really shows the mission of the whole program, and how they’re trying to spread positivity and happiness.”
The festival, which involves simultaneous celebrations in both Nogales locales, features the gigantic puppets meeting and playing above the border walls, as citizens from both communities come out to enjoy the festive atmosphere.
“The thing I remember the most was on the day we brought the puppets to the border, the whole community of Nogales coming together,” says Tyler. “It was a great turnout, and my favorite memory is of everyone at the border, with the puppets on both sides, and everyone singing a song together.”
Through their sheer scale, the puppets help reduce the wall from a barrier to a place of positive interaction, while also focusing on a spirit of bi-national community that already exists. The shared culture is something that surprised even Kaufman on her first visit to the borderlands, she recalls.
“That first visit—it was life-changing,” Kaufman says. “It was the opposite of what we’re taught to expect. People think it’s a dangerous place. It’s actually a very culturally rich, largely peaceful community that is being militarized, but not by their own desire. All the [national] debate about it is happening down there as well, but [the] folks who live there say that they feel like there’s a perception of their community as dangerous, as divisive, as divided, and it’s much less divided that you would expect. The landscapes are beautiful, and the people who live there are really lovely and super welcoming. Its very different than one might expect.”
That first interaction also spurred Art Beyond the Wall to grow in its mission, she adds.
“Initially, we started with this idea of just doing a big puppet performance, and the process of going down there the first time really shaped the mission of the organization,” she says. “The festival and the puppets and all of our programming is geared at amplifying the voices of young people who live there so they can say, ‘Hey, listen to us: This is what it’s like to live where I live. This is what it means to me to be a borderlander.’”
The organization is working to help carry those voices around the country, and the world. Art Beyond the Wall has already taken its performances to Chicago as well London, England, and Prague in the Czech Republic.
“We want to start conversations with people about what assumptions do we make about places with borders, and what decisions do we make?” Kaufman says.
On the national level, “There’s political implications as well,” she notes. “Those of us living in Connecticut or New York make decisions with our votes about what happens in places like that. And there just isn’t enough information in the world [to inform that vote]. There’s not a lot of first-person narrative going on. We try to use the phrase ‘radical listening’—listening really well to someone who lives really far away from you, for just a couple minutes.”
Tyler may not yet be old enough to vote, but he certainly feels he’s been informed by his experience.
“I think, for a lot of people here, what we think is different, because we hear all this negativity around the wall and Mexico and the border,” he says. “But it’s so different when you’re actually there. You realize these are all people and lives and not just some statistic in a news article. Just being there in person and talking to different members of the community and hearing everyone’s stories down there was a really eye-opening experience. I’m really happy I had the opportunity to be down there.”
Tyler is looking forward to continuing to intern and assist Art Beyond the Wall through his senior year at Hopkins. He hopes sharing what he’s learned and experienced will help to enlighten others.
“Originally, my expectation was the wall was going to be a huge division point, and both sides were going to be very separate from each other, and I think it was exactly the opposite, especially on the festival dates,” says Tyler. “It just showed how people from both sides are really connecting with each other. I definitely felt a sense of community, even though the wall was separating them.”
Tyler hopes events like the public gathering planned for Feb. 7 at GAC will help people learn more and also experience the exuberance that can be felt within the work and mission of Art Beyond the Wall.
“It’s so special to me that we’re having this in Guilford, because this is where I live, and the fact that it’s the first event they’re doing outside of the border is really cool,” he says. “It will be really fun to see the Guilford community come together and see what I’ve been working on with Jess, and what Jess has been working on.”
A free public gathering hosted by Art Beyond the Wall || Más Allá del Muro will take place Friday, Feb. 7 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the gallery at Guilford Art Center, 411 Church Street. Light refreshments will be served; RSVP appreciated by emailing email@example.com. For more information about Art Beyond the Wall || Más Allá del Muro, visit www.ArtBeyondTheWall.com.
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