Public Art Comes to Coxen Hole
A splash of color and culture brightened up the notoriously drab Roatan Hospital in March, thanks to a German trio, a couple of island artitsts and a lot of local kids.
The facelift was the brainchild of muralist Bianca Nandzik, her husband Stefan Nandzik and Christoph Zuern, an MD. The Nandziks, who have been living in San Francisco the past three years, founded a non-profit – Kultklecks – in 2008 to promote public art. The name translates roughly as “a splash into the culture,” said Stefan, and the idea was to involve communities in mural projects so they will “pick up the idea of doing more creative things in their daily life.”
In late 2013 the Nandziks, who by that time had painted a plethora of murals in the US and Germany, reached out to Zuern, who was doing a medical internship at Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa, about doing a project in Honduras. The three had all attended the Albert Schweitzer Gimnasium (high school) in Freiburg, Germany, and had kept in touch over the years.
“We were chatting about how we could do some work together,” said Zuern. “I told them they should get rid of the German name … the name is with a lot of ‘K’s, and it wouldn’t have gone well.” Nandzik accepted that Kultklecks was “basically unpronounceable in English.” So the three created a new non-profit – Cultivative – and registered it in San Francisco. “It’s basically a made-up name,” said Zuern.
“We were chatting about doing a mural in Tegucigalpa, and I told them there was no way we could pull that off, because it’s not that much of a pleasant place to work in the street,” Zuern recalled. So they reached out to other non-profits, both in Honduras and the San Francisco area, to identify a better Honduran location. Global Healing, a health NGO based in Berkeley, California, suggested Roatan Hospital. Cultivative began communicating with Dr. Carla Cerritos at the hospital, said Zuern, and then made a trip to the island last year to meet with hospital staff and other collaborators to pull a project together.
“They told us what they wanted to see on the wall,” said Bianca, who wrote her PhD dissertation on mural art and has been painting murals for 10 years. She then went back and drew up a design featuring Roatan’s native plants and animals, its cultural wealth and diversity and plants used in traditional island medicine. Stefan took care of the logistics. Zuern said his contribution was mainly that he spoke a bit of Spanish (his mother is Portuguese – close enough).
“Christoph felt like it would be really nice to have kids painting the art together,” Bianca said. So they reached out to 25 Roatan schools to generate interest among island youth to participate in the project. But Stefan said that turned out not to be really necessary. People walked in off the street.
“We were actually surprised that we had like a lot of participation right off. So there was not a lot of advertising necessary in order to spread the word that this was happening. On day one we already had people here showing up wanting to volunteer, particularly the younger kids. … We had a couple of local artists who also participated.”
The location, on a busy street corner, presented both advantages and challenges.
“There’s all these like trucks going by, cars going by, people running around,” Stefan said. “That was different.” He said the intense sunshine was also challenging. They erected a tent for shade during the first week, but then two taxis struck it and it became irreparable. “It was definitely an interesting experience for us.”
The mural, which was just being finished March 19, was to be coated with a transparent varnish to protect it from sun damage and vehicle exhaust. Stefan said it should last several years. Of more concern to him was whether the splash of community creativity will last – how to “get people to take this and continue it on their own.”
He hopes the “visibility” of the hospital mural will provide a focal point around which Cultivative can organize a follow-on “train the trainer” project, such as a workshop, within the next six to 12 months, “so that people here could continue the idea of participative and cultural creative projects without us actually coming.”
Meanwhile, patients, pedestrians and passing vehicles will have something interesting and attractive to look at on the drive into downtown Coxen Hole instead of the blasé institutional retro-Stalinist motif that once was Roatan Hospital.