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IMRE AND LORNA KEPES,
FOUNDERS OF THE GUATEMAYA ART AND CULTURE CONNECTION
Lorna, and Imre come from multi-cultural backgrounds. Imre’s parents were European and instilled in him an appreciation for other cultures. Lorna grew up in Mexico of British parents in remote mining camps and absorbed the culture and language as a child and has a long lasting love and affinity for Latin American cultures. Imre and Lorna also lived in New Mexico for a number or years and acquired a deep appreciation for the Native American cultures and continue to be connected by participating in native rituals and ceremonies. They have also had the good fortune to have traveled throughout Mexico and Central America. Most of their working lives in the US were devoted to social services including affordable housing development, family stabilization, and helping to run an after school arts program together. Most of their work was in predominantly Latino communities.
They first came to Guatemala about fifteen years ago because their son married a Guatemalan woman and started a family there. In addition to enjoying their family there, they became more and more enraptured with the country, the culture and the people. Since 2011, they have been living in the predominantly Mayan town of San Pedro La Laguna on Lake Atitlan and were deeply moved by how the people there have embraced and accepted them. They wanted to be contributing members of this community and were involved in a number of volunteer projects, including assisting a senior center and helping to build schools and playgrounds. They came to appreciate that this is a culture that values work and self-reliance and saw how many of the extremely talented artists and artisans were struggling to survive. They decided that ultimately they could perhaps make a bigger difference by helping the artists and artisans sell their creations so they could better support their families and their communities rather than by encouraging a dependence on outside volunteers and resources. From this they came up with the idea of creating a “social business” that would include an open, fair and collaborative working relationship with the artists and artisans, would utilize some of the funds generated from the business to support local initiatives, and would have a component of creating a greater understanding and appreciation of the Mayan history, beliefs and values.
They decided to start out by selling coffee-themed art in coffee shops in Massachusetts and the bead work and weaving to stores and at presentations they put on. They also were invited to show the art at two exhibitions: one for Hispanic Heritage Month at Cambridge College in Cambridge Mass and another as part of an international group show entitled “Common Grounds” on the theme of coffee at the Grady Alexis Gallery at El Taller Latino in New York City. After this initial “testing of the waters” they decided to expand the project to include different themed art such as food, typical markets and Mayan culture and more of the bead work and weavings. Since then, they have primarily sold the art and craftwork at the Cultural Survival Bazaars, the Vermont International Fair, coffee shops and other venues and have had enthusiastic response to the work and the project has enjoyed great success in being able to continue to support the artists, artisans and local programs around Lake Atitlan.
They are now venturing in a whole new direction with their business by launching an online store to sell the art and crafts. They are very enthusiastic and hopeful that this will allow the project to reach a larger audience and provide a more dependable and sustainable revenue for the artists and artisans.
Lorna and Imre strongly believe in a world in which there is mutual understanding, appreciation and cooperation across borders and cultures to create a more equitable, peaceful and just world and they believe that connecting people through the arts, crafts and cultural exchange can help to realize that vision.
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