Physical spaces used for teaching and learning, coworking, project incubation, and the implementation of community projects were not very common in Latin America until a few years ago. However, these types of initiatives are growing across the region.
One of the pioneers of these types of initiatives in South America has been Escuelab in Lima, Peru, which was a project that came out of another older project, Andean High Technology or ATA, for its initials in Spanish. This organization is more closely related to projects involving art and culture, and their relationship with technology. From this foundation, Escuelab sets off to offer something different. From its website:
Based in the downtown of a Latin American capital, Escuelab seeks to encourage creators, theorists, and young activists in order to project their ideas as a way to design and construct possible futures in which their imagination can address the divide between technology and society.
Escuelab offers a dynamic and modular learning concept, which is focused on entrepreneurial projects that integrate disciplines that often are developed in isolation. This line of action facilitates transdisciplinary knowledge in the fields of art, science, technology, and new media outside of the usual classifications and conventional divisions.
They started in 2009 with a workshop called Interactive “Magic and Technology,” a project held in conjunction with Medialab Prado of Madrid. Since then, Escuelab has been active in various types of initiatives. One of the most well-known has been its Residency program , which was held from 2009-2011, as a developer of projects.
In many cases, the Residency program helped create joint projects such as Sugar Camp Puno or XO TV. There have also been projects that were created by individual Residents, such as the contest “Yo Soy el Robot ” (I am the Robot) by Luis Cermeño, Campuslibre.cc by Iván Terceros, and the “Virtual Art Museum for the Memory” by Karen Bernedo. Collective projects such as Pixelhack Medellín was started by Vladmir Castro from Bolivia and Mónica Vallejo from Colombia. In this video in Spanish, Terceros talks about his experience as a resident and his current role as an associate.
In 2011, with the addition of developers Mariano Crowe and Juan Camilo Lema, Escuela started to organize various Hackathons. The first was the Water Hackathon in 2011, followed by Sugar Camp and Developing Latin America 2011 .
In addition to continuing their previously mentioned activities and hosted activities, Escuelab diversified their activities by offering coworking spaces, workshops, memberships, as well as consulting services. In this video in Spanish, Enrique “Kiko” Mayorga talks about some of these additional services offered by Escuelab.
However, Escuelab is not only the physical space offering many types of activities, but it is the community of people with diverse interests and specialities that has been created around the Escuelab space and philosophy. Activisits, hackers, developers, artists, and specialists in other fields of knowledge, not only from Lima or Perú, but all across South America come to Escuelab because they feel that it is the right place to implement or share their activities.
There have also been interesting citizen media outreach projects that have been part of the Escuelab community. Aymar Ccopacatty's project called Qamasa came about from the Residency program. He taught young Aymara students around the Puno area how to rescue and value their culture, language, and traditions using audio-visual tools with a special emphasis on free software. These videos were then uploaded to the internet in their own native language, such as this one where a young student interviews an elder about the traditional potato oven.
In addition, the Rising Voices grantee project Llaqtaypa Rimaynin coordinated by Irma Alvarez Ccoscco also had a close relationship with Escuelab. She used the facilities during some of the audio podcasting workshops for the Quechua-speaking participants from her home community of Haquira, who had migrated to Lima.
Another activity developed by Escuelab in 2012 was PixelHack Arequipa, which was a space to boost Arequipa's cultural circuit through a day of marathon and collaborative development of technological solutions that brought together artists, technologists, communicators, cultural managers, citizens, and other enthusiasts interested in developing technologies for Arequipa, Peru, and the region.
The following is a video tour of the Escuelab facilities guided by Mayorga.
You can follow Escuelab on Twitter and Facebook.