NACO, Mexico — Every Tuesday and Wednesday, children from both sides of the border flock to a multi-colored building on a modest street in Naco, Sonora, Mexico
Some come to fingerpaint, others play music and still others learn to weave. Most importantly, they all come to have fun.
Studio Mariposa is a free after-school program where school-age kids from southern Arizona and northern Mexico explore the arts together.
The art haven is covered in bright murals, depicting warm desert scapes and lifesize butterflies. But that’s just the outside.
Inside, children sit at a long table that spans the long, narrow room, hard at work finishing their art projects.
Gretchen Baer, a Bisbee artist, started the program last January. She and a few other artists had been a part of the Border Bedazzlers, an art group that painted and involved local youths in painting a mural along the wall that separated Naco, Arizona, from Naco, Sonora.
The wall was since taken down, so the mural is no more, but Baer wanted to continue her youth arts initiative. She opened Studio Mariposa shortly after.
The studio quickly took off and now serves between 50 and 100 children every session.
“Half of them come from school across the border and half come from here (Naco, Sonora),” she said. “So it’s half and half who speak English.”
At the studio children get to try out different art forms, and find which ones interest them. Kids not interested in art can still come to Studio Mariposa to have fun with friends.
“You see these changes, that are kind of profound, happening with the kids,” Baer said. “They might be going in one direction — maybe it’s on the drums, painting, or maybe it’s weaving. I even brought a unicycle so they can try a little bit of everything. By doing that, you’re giving kids the opportunity to see who they really are.”
Sergio Tapia, 9, from Bisbee, and Jesus Medina, 9, from Naco, Sonora, both make their way to the studio after school for arts and crafts.
When Tapia first came to Studio Mariposa, he wasn’t sure what to expect but gave the arts and crafts a try with a few of his friends.
“We starting drawing and we liked it,” he said.
Medina has always enjoyed art but when he’s at the studio, he feels he’s found a vocation.
“I come because it is a lot of fun to draw,” he said. “I feel like when I grow up, I’m going to be an artist.”
Baer hopes the project will change perceptions of the border.
“The whole premise is empowering the kids on this side of the border,” she said. “The more negative press that goes out about the border, the more we want to show how wonderful it is here and how great the kids are.”
That concept even went into the name Baer chose for the studio. Mariposa is Spanish for “butterfly,” which is fitting for the area since monarch butterflies have regular migration patterns through southern Arizona.
In a way, the name of the studio sheds a positive light on migration.The building was once a migrant center for people trying to cross the border.
Anne Teters, a Bisbee resident and former member of the Bisbee Bedazzlers, has been a volunteer at Studio Mariposa since the beginning.
This project transcends the expansive border because art can go anywhere and impact lives.
“It ignores a militarized border and crosses it,” she said.
“It’s bringing attention to who these people are. There’s so much creativity and thoughtful ideas here. … This is what changes the world.”
Baer has big plans for Studio Mariposa. She hopes to turn the grassroots project into a certified nonprofit and wants to expand activities for the kids.
She hopes to include more professional musicians and artists.
“You always leave here feeling really brought up by them,” she said. “It’s invigorating and it feels good for anybody who comes here and helps.”