In the high satellite city of El Alto above La Paz, there is one of the most amazing Community Art Centers we’ve ever seen: COMPA. Established 1989 they have a wealth of experience playing social theatre for disadvantaged people throughout Bolivia. We paint part of the main building and love the place.
COMPA: Comunidad de Productores en Artes
“Art and culture play an essential role in the development of the individual and society. COMPA envisions a just, participatory, democratic and solidary society.”
We found out about COMPA simultaneously through two different contacts, and we decided to support the unique initiative in Bolivia’s greatest urban area. A local minibus from La Paz took us uphill to the plateau of El Alto that is overlooking the city at about 4,000 meters above sea level. Apart from some steep rocky slopes, the escarpment is entirely dotted with simple and naked brick and concrete dwellings, foreboding the living condition in the Ciudad Satélite itself.
The Comunidad de Productores en Artes is located in several very special buildings. The main COMPA four-storey building is a concrete structure, typical for El Alto, that stands out because of its colorful facade made of used window frames and decorated with captivating metal ready-mades.
A COMPA branch in “zona 4” is even more extravagant, as they re-used items like televisions and car tyres to fill up the walls of a surreal pyramid-like structure, standing some 20 meters tall amidst scattered ruins, adjacent to the international airport that shares the high plain with the city district. When we are shown this arts venue together with a group of young German DED-volunteers, there is a good, compact play performed by a young group of actors, and a blasting drumming session.
The initiative started in 1989 as the social theatre group “trono” that has played over twenty years to advocate for the plight of miners, farmers and indigenous women. We attend another social theatre performance in the “mine-shaft” underneath the COMPA-house. We are all equiped with a helmet and a pickaxe and are drilled to “work” in the mine. Conditions are terrible, and we see fellow workers “die”. The play culminates into a protest and the hispanic supervisor is sent away. We are confronted with the colonial past of Bolivia and feel the solidarity with the miners, and look with different eyes at the heroic rescue in Chile.
We meet other volunteers in the office of COMPA and talk about our contribution. We decide to restore the colors of the housefront, and put the letters “bienvenidos a COMPA” on the wall, along with the silhouette of Charlie Chaplin. By the time we leave, Chaplin is a popular icon and passers-by take pictures posing next to him.
The founder of COMPA, Ivan Nogales, invites us in his apartment on the top floor of the building, and we talk about the many activities they organize throughout El Alto and in Bolivia. There is a mobile “theatro camion”, a traveling theatre in a large truck that can reach undeveloped areas; “calle cultural”, a street fair introducing art in a playful way to young audiences, and many other initiatives. It is great to share the enthousiasm for theatre with Ivan and we have a beautiful time as his guests.
We also make a contribution for some theatre chairs through the website betterplace.org, and suggest every contributor to support the work of COMPA and to visit the place if you have the chance.