Are you a potential expat, thinking about making a living or retiring in Ecuador, where you will finally be able to realize your dreams of a worry-free life and have the time to give back to your community?

In this series of articles entitled Making a Difference, Lorell Stewart, a long-time Cuenca resident and host of the successful Spanish Immersion Homestay Program  will introduce you to many like-minded North Americans, Europeans and Ecuadorians who will amaze and inspire you!

Some folks are highly visible, contributing ideas and opportunities on a broad scale, while others are quietly engaged in helping in more singular ways.  If you can imagine it, you too can make it happen.

 Part I –  Making a Difference – “Uniting Cultures Across the Americas

In this first in a series of our Making A Difference articles, we meet Clay Bodine and Laura Inks Bodine, who have brought their successful Santa Barbara Fishbon project to life in South America with Fishbon del Sur, and have additionally created the inspiring, nascent community group, LOVE Cuenca!

“LOVE” Cuenca Community Group

Sitting in an outdoor café on a sunny Saturday morning in late November, I have the chance to interview Clay and Laura about their vision to expand their Santa Barbara initiative “to develop a collaborative environment for artists, technologists, writers, designers, performers and other participants, to create unique, real-time aesthetic experiences that speak to contemporary audiences”.  I know that’s a lot to assimilate, so let’s break it down;

LS:  I have heard so many wonderful things about Fishbon del Sur, and in fact have enjoyed a few of your newly legendary artistic events!  How does the “del Sur” experience in South America differ from what you originally created in Santa Barbara, and how have you cross-pollinated across the equator?

LIB:   When Clay and I met in Santa Barbara, we were both doing similar things for a different audience.  My business, ‘Arts Alive’, was housed in a 4,000 sq. ft space which included an art gallery, and classrooms for ceramics, painting, music, costume design and much more for children of all ages.  Fishbon was Clays’ initiative, and he was basically doing the same thing for adults.

CB:  Fishbon was created as an incubator for creative expression.  The past 15 to 20 years has given rise to a paradigm shift, moving toward collaboration at all levels.  These days, innovation is the only way that companies are getting ahead.  Fishbon originated as a ‘container’ for collaborative expression for adults, and grew out of the many similar artistic endeavors which created ‘Burning Man’, in the Nevada desert.

Facade of Fishbon del Sur during Cuarto Aparte

LS: Are you going to be doing activities for children here?

LIB:  Really, I am not here to re-live the same experiences we had in SB.  Now, I want to be the kid!  And with regard to cross-pollinating across the equator (and in fact, around the world), art is an international language, expressed in so many forms.  It’s my greatest motivation to learn Spanish so that I can communicate and collaborate creatively with artists from different countries.  Our creative expansion in Cuenca has been born from another culture.  For example, Clay recently remarked that he is inspired to revisit an old play that he wrote, as he is now seeing its’ potential with new eyes, answering the question; “How would I do this here?”  And as far as differences between the US and Ecuadorian artistic community, there really aren’t a lot.  What I have found, however, is that the similarities are universal.  The recent Cuenca initiative, ‘Cuarto Aparte’ (a Room Apart) was a reaction among many young artists to the older, more traditional government sponsored program, El Bienal.  So these artists were, in fact, ANTI-Bienal.  Artist issues are not very different here than they were in SB; How do we make a living with our art?  How do we become more visible?  How do we not sell out and yet still sell art?

Artist, Fernanda Pacurucu, works on a personal totem for a Halloween event.

CB: Artists here in South America are no longer provincial.  In the US, we were involved in a more ‘local’ environment, in part due to the many issues with regard to zoning restrictions, political opinions, and neighborhood concerns.  Here in Cuenca we find that the city is more than willing to work with us and help artists find expression.  The arts are very important to South American cultures.  Artists are able to do more edgy stuff, and are often influenced by what is happening in Europe.  I find them to be more visceral.  They have their feet on the ground.

LIB:  Our upcoming project is a perfect example. ‘Cajas Magicas’ (Magic Boxes) is a series of peep-shows performed for one individual at a time. Each piece has an amazing array of elements inside small boxes, and the project features artists from Columbia, Peru, Venezuela, Cuba, and Mexico.  

Author, Billy Jack Sibley, reads from his novel and leads discussion.

LS:  Graffiti art has exploded around the City, initially due to the encouragement and support of the Cuenca Chamber of Commerce.  Now I see you two engaged in helping to further expand opportunities for local artists.  Please tell us a bit more about that?

LIB:  In SB, we initiated the ‘Graffiti Project’ as a way of giving local artists compelling alternatives for creative expression.  We began by offering 20 large plywood panels on which to paint.  Each panel was documented as a completed work of art, and then the next artist would come in and paint right over what had been done.  We eventually used these panels to cover up a number of broken windows on an abandoned building in a highly trafficked tourist area of town.  We essentially stopped all of the unauthorized graffiti in the neighborhood!  Even rival gangs started painting together on the weekends!  Our collaboration here in Cuenca will continue to expand on this idea of collaboration.

Laura, Clay & Kris Loomis in One Act Play, Festival

LS: In a broader context, we see some wonderful things happening with your heartfelt initiative, LOVE Cuenca!  You have thus far organized three volunteer cleanup projects along the Tomebamba River, and have recently completed a volunteer taxi car wash, encouraging our expat community to show the LOVE and appreciation for our hard working drivers.  I understand your volunteers washed over 20 taxis on a recent Saturday.

LIB:  Our LOVE Cuenca mission is simply to have fun and show love for our new home.

CB:  We need to remember that we are all immigrants and our hosts are deserving of our appreciation.  It’s really a cultural tragedy that we (expats) often lose sight of our roots.  My great grandfather, as an example, was an immigrant cabinet maker from Sweden.  

LIB:  Two other local residents, Cinza Bottaro Torres, Felicia Brings and I were talking one day about starting an initiative to LOVE Cuenca, and so we did.  Anyone can come up with an idea and we make it a reality!  And the idea for LOVE Cuenca was really a way to provide a platform for expats to get involved, with tons of support from like minded peopleOur December project has members creating dolls and puppets to distribute to disadvantaged children for Christmas. We can all enjoy a cleaner river walk and building relationships with local cab drivers seems like a good way to LOVE Cuenca. The feedback we received was genuinely warm and heartfelt!

CB:  There are too many regulations in the US.  Here, we are able to operate on a grass roots level.  And getting back to the question about Graffiti, it is through LOVE Cuenca that we are now meeting with City officials about designating another entire street for art.

LaKomuna artist LaKomuna, Elmo, wearing t-shirt he designed

LS:  I wish we had the time and the space to share more of what you are creating here in Cuenca!  For those of us who are interested in joining your efforts, either now or in the future, is there anything else you would like us to know about right now, and how can we learn more about Fishbon del Sur and LOVE Cuenca?

CB: We would like for everyone to know that we are doing this, simply because we live here.  That’s how scenes get started.  Ideas bring people, and people bring more ideas.  And when something is not profit motivated, all can either participate, or equally important, no one needs to feel guilty if they chose not to participate.  

LIB: We are even finding that non-artists who support the arts are stepping forward to provide funding. As an example, many artists will need bus fare to travel here from different locations in South America.  Local expats are stepping up with contributions, and many are also offering free housing.  People are awake to what is happening!

LS: Thank you both for taking the time to meet with me and inspiring current and future expats and Ecuadorians, with your efforts, and for the idea that “if you can think of it, you can make it happen”, here in Cuenca, Ecuador!  Anything you would like to say in closing?  How can people get in touch with you to learn more?

LIB:  I always come away from Fishbon event labs feeling smarter!  There is so much to learn when we leave our comfort zones.  We are also getting close to the day when those who we support from other countries will begin reciprocating and invite our Cuenca contingents to visit their countries and homes. We are open to hearing the ideas of others and in 2015 we’ll host a monthly Blues Lab for musicians to experiment.  In addition, we’ll be having a number of events, workshops and festivals which will highlight artists from different counties.

Laura with artist Ramona Garduno preparing for a Halloween event

CB: Our Fishbon del Sur creative lab is located in a quiet neighborhood in the north/west section of El Centro. It’s a 2 story Colonial building with performance space for theatre and music, an art studio, an artist residence on the first floor and our private residence on the second floor.  Fishbon del Sur and LOVE Cuenca can both be found on Facebook and we welcome people to join us. We also have a weekly newsletter that people can sign up for by emailing us at:    

Artist DAZA demonstrates puppet prototype
Lokomuna artists work on installation for Halloween event
Overhead shot of performers at Fishbon del Sur Halloween event
Performer, Daniela Altieri, conducts voice workshop

Part II  in Making a Difference – “Uniting Cultures Across the Americas


We welcome questions, feedback and suggestions for a future Making a Differnce feature!  Lorel Stewart can be reached via Cuenca Spanish Club.