MiRA: Creating Possibilities through Art in Caracas

MiRA: Creating Possibilities through Art in Caracas

From Alexis Parra

In this month-long campaign, Project MiRA is looking to raise funds for our 2021 programming. All funds will go to getting new cameras, collaborate with other working artists and reach more communities!

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Project MiRA is an alternative educational initiative, bringing mobile photography workshops to vulnerable youth in Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas. Through free community workshops, Project MiRA creates a space for discussion, critical analysis and visual creation. Throughout these workshops, youth not only learn photography, but how to visually represent themselves, their neighborhoods and larger social issues. This education is meant to empower during a time of widespread disenfranchisement. Considering the lack of local media, due to Venezuela’s extreme systemic repression, political polarization and hyper-inflated economy, the power and space to tell one’s story hold deep meaning. As Project MiRA continues, we are creating an online archive of what it means to live in Venezuela today - unfiltered - through the eyes of its youth.


Venezuela is in crisis: this is, unfortunately, not new. Since the death of revolutionary president Hugo Chávez in 2013, the country has been plagued with deep-rooted political polarization - leading to years of violent protests, with state-sanctioned extreme force. For years, many have had to live off of government subsidies and rationed food sources, due to both hyperinflation and international sanctions. Street violence and, consequently, state violence are extremely high. Millions have migrated. What is left of Venezuela is holding on by a white-knuckled grip. While these macro problems continue, youth are being left to fend for themselves. Due to recent migration, many schools are left without enough teachers - leading to large blocks of time left empty for attending students. Specifically for youth living in low income neighborhoods (barrios,) the difficulties are that much more: the pressure of local gangs or help to provide for your family are issues that local teens are faced with each day. In many ways, because of the crisis, kids are forced to grow up quickly. Project MiRA is looking to provide arts education and, moreover, relief: a space where kids are allowed to be just kids. 

As a Venezuelan-American currently based in Caracas, it is an immense learning curve and enriching experience to work with youth here. Thanks to my collaborator Any Hidalgo, we are able to speak to the realities young people face and help them see their own potential. 

During my final year at Bard College, I was looking for a way to return to Venezuela and work with communities. I came up with Project MiRA and created an alliance with a local cultural park, Tiuna el Fuerte. Thanks to the Davis Peace Prize, I was able to move to Caracas and, in June 2018, I began free photography workshops at Tiuna’s urban space in El Valle. The project was supposed to last three months, but instead I spent a year hosting workshops both in Tiuna’s urban space as well as traveling to neighboring states, collaborating with other cultural centers and providing photography workshops to their local community. In total, I taught approximately 300 students in that year alone. It was then that - thanks to the alliances and experiences gained - this short term project turned into a long-term initiative. 

In 2019, Project MiRA became official with a team of part-time employees and collaborating local artists. The key shift was that, instead of using cultural centers to host our workshops, Project MiRA would go directly to the vulnerable communities and local schools. This methodology allows us to teach youth who may not otherwise have access to the arts and, additionally, create bridges between these communities and the local permanent cultural institutions. Through crowdfunding and local investments, we have been able to host six rounds of successful workshop programs, reaching about 250 youth since the spring of 2019. With your help, we hope to reach even more young people in 2021. 

In a world saturated with images, the power of the visual language is more important than ever. During a complicated time in Venezuela, the ability to tell your truth through a photograph holds immense power. Our workshops are for youth, broken up into age groups 10-14 years old and 15-20 years old. Recently, we have begun collaborations with accomplished women photojournalists to co-host thematic workshops for teen girls: creating an empowering, safe space for young women to talk about gender-based issues, representation and use the camera as a tool of empowerment. Our first pilot of this themed workshop led to young adult women creating photo projects ranging from the exploration of the landscape to tackling social issues such as the unpaid labor of the housewife or the plights of a single mother. In spite of this insanely difficult year, we have been able to continue with this concept, hosting two incredible workshops - one with friend + renowned photographer Andrea Hernandez Briceño and a group of 8 incredibly bright young women. 

As we continue on with our more general workshop programming, we hope to strengthen our infrastructure to continuously host workshops in various zones of Caracas - utilizing our artist network to provide other themed workshops for youth. In the near future, through these workshops, we will be able to create assistantship opportunities for select students: a starting step to creating viable career paths. In addition to the concretization of our programming, we look forward to hosting local and international exhibitions of our students’ work. Currently, we provide digital community exhibitions for students and their family members. These small events allow for communities to celebrate their youth and their art. Some of our students’ work is even under consideration for an upcoming Aperture book, highlighting youth photography from all over the world. We hope that as we continue to establish our presence that our students’ perspectives continue to be seen on a global scale. With this goal of $2,500 we will be able to guarantee six workshops in various communities this coming year, while providing a live-able wage for our small, dedicated team + honorariums for teaching artists. 

In a moment where Venezuela’s future is uncertain, Project MiRA provides hope for its most vulnerable youth. Through our mobile workshops, we create a space where young people not only learn photography, but more importantly, learn that their perspective matters. Our slogan is #HayUnHorizonte (there is a horizon) and we hope that, through your support!,  we can continue showing Caracas’ youth that - despite today’s instability - there is a tomorrow worth working towards. 

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