Images and Text copyright Akumal Arts Festival and @walkinggirlnyc
Highway 307 runs down the East side of the Yucatan peninsula connecting Cancun to the coastal beach resorts to the South. Mostly running less than half a mile from the beach, it often splits the coast in two very separate realities: the wealthy beach side with expensive tourist resorts and the villages side cutoff from the influx of tourism money and often plagued by government under-funding. Akumal is one of these villages. It has a small population of 1,300 people and it's connected to Akumal Beach by an highway overpass. The Akumal Arts Festival found its origins on this bridge.
Safety was the motivating issue. Getting from one side of the bridge to the other had become dangerous for employees returning home at night without streetlights. At a point when social and environmental degradation had created a multi-divided, broken community with increased crime, we needed overhead streetlights, and we needed our community to heal.
With the wall paintings of 100 national and international mural artists, the first annual Akumal Arts Festival in November 2018 changed the face and the heart of Akumal. Festival themes encompassing Mexican & Maya culture, conservation, environment, women's empowerment, sustainability, and climate change offered both the community and visitors the bittersweet insight of these issues vital to our survival. Most importantly a tremendous amount of love, goodwill and community cohesion was generated.
Akumal's community leaders saw the vision. Between local business owners and officials, school and non-profit directors, local artists and residents, friends and neighbors, housing, food and funds for materials were secured. Important partnerships were formed leading to initiatives that continue long past the first and second festival extravaganzas. Clean-up efforts (including lights), artists visiting to paint and give workshops, a cooking school, arts education scholarships all have been born as fruit of this project.