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Sustaining Community

Updated: Sep 2, 2022

Artists. Collectors of resources; spreaders of inspiration. Quite like the bees, they move creatively and with purpose, pollinating everything they touch with life-sustaining pollen. Constantly reusing and recycling materials, learning from one another, sharing instruments and ideas; they come together to imagine and rebuild a world they collectively want to be in. They gather in farmers' markets, art galleries, schools, and homes, always ready to make a connection, to start a project.

What does it mean to sustain community? It's harvesting local elements and weaving them together, not necessarily cohesively or even logically, just beautifully; drawing us into spaces where we come together as neighbors to share, to eat, to learn, to build, to grow.

Puerto, Colombia. 2022. The hot morning sun pours through the window as an artist gets ready for the day. She removes yesterday's sunscreen and surfboard wax from a canvas bag. Every day's adventure calls for a fresh start. She shakes out the leftover sand and places her laptop and a few books inside. Then it's off to the first stop of many -- the elementary school one town over, where she has been working as a 6th grade teacher for the past two years.

Oberlin College. 2019. Brianne Cotter joined a coop. She was studying Spanish and Creative Writing at the time, and added baking bread to her long list of activities. The idea was to build community with the other students on campus. When the pandemic hit, everyone was isolated. The students no longer gathered together in the dining halls or the classrooms around the university. Seeking new ways to connect and to bring beauty into their homes, Brianne and her housemates began collaging.

It was a new way to come together, to create art and sustain the community they had lost—using the pieces of paper they collected from the walls of the university before it shut down.

After spending the day teaching students how to identify shapes and angles, the artist continues her journey. Next stop, the local market where folks from her neighborhood come to greet each other and pick up fresh produce. Walking around, she says a quick hello to people she recognizes: a few surfers, a few artists, some older women. Then, begins to collect ingredients in her canvas bag, filling it with the local harvest: fruits, vegetables and cheeses.

This bag has been with her since her early college days, helping her transport goods from one adventure to the next, sustaining her local community as she passed each one by.

Barranquilla, Colombia. October 2020. Brianne is now a math teacher at a school in Colombia. She begins using her collage practice as a pedagogical tool to learn the euphemisms and niches of the coastal vocabulary. Over the next two years, she'll call two coastal cities home before moving to a small house on the beach of Puerto, Colombia, where she spends her days surfing, teaching and cooking.

The artist arrives home, and removes the fresh produce from her bag. The balcony door opens. Her partner walks in singing, 'Corazón de Melón', a famous Cuban song, named after a term of endearment used across Spanish speaking countries in the Caribbean. She begins singing along as she tosses some oil in a pan and begins dicing up onions for tonight's dish, a colombian twist on her mom's pasta sauce. Later, they will have some friends over to eat, to laugh, share stories and inspire one another.

February 2022. Brianne had the chance to present her collection of collages and interpret a performance art piece at La Alianza Francesca in Barranquilla. Local artists and community members gathered to hear about the moments that inspired each one. The Colombian audience identified with the pieces and Spanish phrases highlighted in her art. They welcomed the colloquial and sometimes ironic portrayal of the coastal culture and enjoyed the exhibit.

The art sustained community.

After dinner, the artist flips through a science textbook she brought back from the school, in search of inspiration. A picture of a heart stands out as comical. As she cuts out the unrealistic veins and arteries surrounding a gooey interior, she remembers the song she sang along to while cooking. Pulling out a few more magazines from the canvas bag, she gathers the necessary letters and places them on top of the heart, now labeled "CORAZON DE MELON."

Æra Hope has partnered with upcoming artist feature, Brianne Cotter, to create the CORAZON DE MELON canvas bag! Stay tuned for more information on how to claim a bag, support a local artist and sustain your local community ! ❤️


All images are Brianne Cotter Collages. Visit to learn more about Brianne’s art, translating services, or to schedule a home gallery workshop or tour.

This is an Æra Hope x Antonia Stefanescu writing collaboration with contributions from N.

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