Arena y Esteras

For the right to smile

Translated, 'Arena y Esteras' means 'sand and straw mats' – a fitting description as the project works in Villa El Salvador, a poverty stricken district of Lima which borders on the desert. 1971 saw the arrival of the first 8,000 families who came to settle this extremely inhospitable area on the outskirts of Lima. They had all been forcibly driven out of their homes in the interior of the country. Villa El Salvador (VES) has today over 400,000 inhabitants and lies in an area of desert where accommodation consists of simple huts constructed from straw mats. Not all the inhabitants have electricity and water or are connected to the sewage system. 75% of the population are under 25 years of age. Finally, the rate of violent crime is one of the highest in the entire region.

When the popular mayor of Villa El Salvador, Maria Elena Moyano, was murdered by the 'Shining Path', a sense of grief and hopelessness spread throughout the population. A group of youths formed themselves into a group with the intention of using art to overcome fear, and to win back the people through the medium of laughter – in order to restore their belief in life. 'For the right to smile' has been the motto of the organisation since then.

'Arena y Esteras' is a union of artists, educationalists and teachers who have been active in the city for over 20 years now. They are involved in issues such as human development and societal change regarding questions of human rights, cultural identity, equality of the sexes and respect for creativity. They turn to the creative power of people as an artistic strategy to create a way of life, to remain resistant, and thereby, mutually support each other. To achieve this, they make use of artistic forms such as theatre, circus, music, dance and the plastic arts.

Own center for culture

Nearly 20 years after the founding of 'Arena y Esteras' in March 1992, the organisation now has the opportunity to set up a 'Casa Cultural Comunitaria' in Villa El Salvador. This has been made possible through the financial support of the Japanese embassy in Peru. The centre is primarily meant to further interpersonal relationships and artistic education. It should also serve to promote the production of artistic works ,and naturally, the presentation of the community's art and culture. Thereby, it is meant to reach a new generation as an audience. The house of culture, besides offering a gallery, a library and a culture-café, also, more inportantly, includes rooms for theatre, dance and workshops.


National Culture Award of Peru

On the 30th November 2012 the Ministry for Culture announced that ARENA Y ESTERAS were to receive the National Culture Prize in the category 'Good Practice'. This award made after 20 years work for 'the right to smile', was the crowning achievement in the anniversary year 2012. The award represents a high degree of recognition for all those who have been active over the years in cultural work in Villa El Salvador and the Peruvian Andes, and especially for those young people who are active in the area today.

Community theatre

With theatre Arena y Esteras wants to form a community in which every member can live in a socially responsible and dignified way. In such theatre work, on the street, in parks – in fact everywhere where there is life – they take on subjects that currently hold peoples attention, and together search for artistic means to explore such subjects. The actors are school pupils, young workers, mothers or simply neighbours.

ial circus

With its circus work, Arena y Esteras wants to explore social issues. Children and young people are the main target groups of this work and includes an attempt to strenghten values amongst the poorest members of society such as solidarity, mutual responsibility and respect.

Educational Art

With 'mobile schools' a type of 'community education' has been set in motion in Villa El Salvador. This form of education takes place everywhere in the district, not only in the schools. For this form of learning, teachers combine artistic activities and educational input. Additionally, Arena y Esteras has brought into existence a school for socio-cultural work and trainers. Here, principally young people from Villa El Salvador are trained as 'peer leaders'.

Intercultural voluntary work

Arena y Esteras takes responsibility for the whole society very seriously. Every individual is meant to play an active role in society. On this basis the organisation has formed an intercultural voluntary service that works toward building bridges between city and country dwellers, between the north and south of the country, and also between young and old. Young artists travel from Villa El Salvador to the Andes in order to play theatre, to give workshops and to show solidarity. At the same time, Arena y Esteras receives cultural groups from the interior of the country allowing them to present their work and to enter into a cultural dialogue.

International exchange

Arena y Esteras is futhermore involved in international exchange, and is a member of the 'Red Latinoamericano Arte y Transformación Social'. Tours and exchange projects have so far taken the project to a variety of Latin American and European countries ( in recent years there was an exchange with youths from Poland and Germany – 2009 in Berlin, and in October 2010 in Villa El Salvador). Accordingly, Arena y Esteras sees itself not only as a cultural project, but as a representative of community life in Villa El Salvador, and as ambassadors for the culture of the city, region and the whole country.


"Leyendas y Malabares"

Arena y Esteras' newest production "Leyendas y Malabares" ´means 'legends and juggling' in english and is celebrating its premiere in Europe this spring.
In this play, the children and youths tell the legend of the Incan creator god Wircocha and the genesis of the islands "Pachacámac" which are just two kilometres from Lima away..
This production has a special meaning to the young ensemble of Arena y Esteras, because the local and regional identity becomes more and more important in Villa el Salvador and whole Peru. The three typical Peruvian regions are mentioned in the play - the Andes, the rainforest and the cost. 

The renarration of the legend through the children and youths of Arena y Esteras is a lovely combination of circus, theatre, dance and music and  gets along without needing any language.

You can read the legend about Wiracocha and the islands of  "Pachacámac" on this page.

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