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Latino artist creates global peace initiative with a simple box and message

LatinaLista — As much as the world is engulfed in revolutions and uprisings, there is a growing trend to get people to think more about the concept of peace and make it a reality.

fred_scott.jpgOne person who wants the world to put aside hateful rhetoric, brutal violence and honestly discuss the issue of peace is New York-based Nicaraguan artist Franck de Las Mercedes.

Artist Franck de Los Mercedes alongside his box creations for the peace initiative Priority Boxes.
(Photo: Fred Scott)

Yet, de Las Mercedes knows that to get people talking about peace, they have to be engaged with the topic. Being an artist, he had the perfect media to accomplish his goal — boxes.

In 2006, from his small art studio in New York City, de Las Mercedes came up with the idea for a global peace initiative that he dubbed The Priority Boxes Art Series. The premise of the initiative is simple: Send an empty box painted in a bright abstract design to anyone in the world for free, who requests one, with the label — “FRAGILE: Contains Peace.”

Nine thousand boxes later, de Las Mercedes is on his way to achieving his goal. Priority Boxes has turned into a cultural movement with every continent on the globe receiving a box. The project itself has evolved. Instead of only offering “peace” as a label, “love,” “freedom” and “justice” are also now included as label options.

“We always expect something of value to come in a box, but what if the box was empty yet containing something symbolic with a positive, challenging or inspiring message?” Franck de Las Mercedes asked.

“It was at that moment that I decided to start an experiment in an effort to provoke thought and ask people to reconsider their ability to influence change. I wanted to create dialogue, so I started sending seemingly empty boxes to anyone who requested one, anywhere in the world – for free. I decided to send the boxes without charging a penny for the work or shipping, to convey the message that something of such priority as peace should not have a price. And that art can be both inclusive and accessible.”

The project has been a hit around the world. Outside the United States, Argentina is the leading country participating in the Priority Boxes project. de Las Mercedes credits its popularity from coverage by Argentina’s national newspaper “El Clarin,” as well as, several well known bloggers in the country. The artist says that so far over 2500 boxes have gone out to Latin America, with more waiting to be sent.

While peace is an important issue for all countries, de Las Mercedes knows that to some countries the change in public attitude towards the concept is a matter of life and death.

“Over six hundred boxes have been sent to Mexico,” de Las Mercedes said. “And I’ve even collaborated with local educators to create art initiatives that address the violence in Mexico, especially Ciudad Juarez. One of the initiatives is The Peace Flyers in which the public is invited to act as activists in their community by printing and posting one or more of these flyers for all to see, and take a symbol of Peace and Hope with them.”

Because the boxes and shipping must remain free-of-charge to be true to the intent of the art project, de Las Mercedes subsidizes the Priority Boxes project with sales from his artwork, commissions and t-shirts.

But with the popularity of the program only growing and more people requesting the boxes (There is currently about a 4-8 month waiting period for US requests and boxes shipped outside the U.S. can take over 10 months), de Las Mercedes is trying to raise money to continue funding the project.

He launched a funding campaign on the popular site Kickstarter and hopes to raise $5,000 by June 2, 2011. As of this writing, he has raised only $2,509.

When asked what the biggest impact of the project has been so far, he answers:

“The way it has found its way into schools across America . To date, about 300 teachers in the US have requested and adapted the Priority Boxes into their lesson plan and I am always impressed with how children and teens have grasped the concept and embrace the message. Some art teachers have been introduced to the project by the students themselves.”

de Las Mercedes says his peace initiative is another kind of revolution — a box revolution, which makes peace ambassadors of its participants rather than fighters.

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