Yellow Coco Creative Nest is an open arts space for children designed to nurture creativity and understanding between the Balinese and non-Balinese community through the arts. Almost three years ago, Canadian Susan Allen and her Indonesian husband Susiawan set up the Yellow Coco Creative Nest in Nyuh Kuning, Ubud. It is a space for children, teens, adults and families to nurture their creativity through the arts and build a peaceful multi-cultural community.
Yellow Coco is not your typical after-school drop off centre; it is a unique and fun experience for children that will go a long way towards improving their levels of multiple intelligences. At Yellow Coco, the cultures of all children are respected in a multicultural context through the investigation and sharing of differing activities, lifestyles and beliefs. Different intelligences are developed, such as musical, oral, literal, mathematical/technical, kinesthetic, and emotional.
Yellow Coco(nut) is a homely place, similar to a small ‘creative nest’ where artisans live and work. With support from Banjar Nyuh Kuning community leaders, in October 2011, Susiawan (visual artist) and Susan Allen (drama and movement artist) created this unique and inspirational concept, with over 20 years experience in the area of arts education, including children’s art activities.
“My mother was a lover of arts and dance,” recalls Susan. “She took me to many live stage shows and community-based programs as a child, that were sponsored by the local and national government of Canada. This was an inspiration to me.”
These educators use the arts as a tool to support creative exploration and expression via multicultural curiosity and understanding, connection to, and the natural world and through the use of sustainable alternatives for arts. Yellow Coco is a place to witness the younger generation deeply connecting with land through art or by patiently studying gamelan music with a Balinese village elder.
In 1991 Susan was researching the arts as a tool in community-based environmental education. Her Canadian university had a partnership with ITB (Bandung Institute of Technology) and she was directed to Susiawan and the organization Yayasan Anak Merdeka. He was a graduate of ITB Fine Arts and had found artistic solutions to various environmental issues. They collaborated on a project in Cirebon, incorporating various art forms with local street children.
“I met my husband in Java in 1991 and we came to Bali together from Canada in 2003,” remembers Susan. “After several years working in Java, I was hired as an Educator at Pelangi School in 2007. And for three years, the Green School employed me to work as their Kindergarten teacher and then Drama teacher. I taught alongside Susiawan, who initially volunteered as the Visual Arts teacher, but was employed at the school for two more years. Then came Yellow Coco.”
Now the progressive couple teach the arts as a tool in understanding organic gardening, self and collective expression, exploration of local sites, stories and mythologies. Their languages of instruction are Indonesian and English, while creating shadow puppetry programs, mask-making and play, drawing lessons, story theatre, singing, drumming, dancing and much more for the kids. There are also events such as the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, which supports youth.
Years later, after they had married and went to Canada, Susan and Susiawan started exploring Shadow Play as a contemporary form and tool for education with children. By 2004, they had started their own company, Me and My Shadows, and were performing across Canada in festivals, schools, museums and parks. In Bali they soon created more performances and workshops.
Shadow puppet creation and play is designed to share the history and context of the ancient art of shadow play and how to adapt the medium to the modern context. Their Toddler Circle is a bilingual sharing of songs and the Drawing Club develops creative exploration of tools and materials to be shared with friends.
“With just two staff (myself and my husband) Yellow Coco is trying to build a bridge between the Balinese local community and the expat communities through creative arts activities where many possibilities for peace, community and arts can be nurtured,” says Susan. “Often expats have difficulty reaching out and connecting to Balinese people and we can facilitate this important step towards preserving Balinese culture for everyone to enjoy well into the future.”
Over 60 families are associated with the arts centre and teacher training is on offer four times a year, with outreach to Canada, Singapore, Japan and other Indonesian islands like Java. During 2014, Susan hopes to become a community studio and training centre for both Indonesian and expat teachers. They are looking for an ‘Angel Investor’ to support the development of the studio.
MEET THE UNIVERSE
Susan Allen believes that ‘learning through art and movement’ is essential for every child’s education. In her CD Come and Meet the Universe in a Day with Me Susan has recorded children’s songs in both Indonesian and English. Here is a song based on Shel Siverstein’s wonderful book, The Giving Tree.
Giving tree, giving tree
Gives to me and my family
Giving tree, giving tree
I love my giving tree
When I was a little girl, I had a special tree
A special tree, that was there for me
Winter, summer, fall and even in the spring
My giving tree, gave me everything
Yellow Coco programs are designed for children five to12 years and are differentiated by age, skill and language ability. While all opening and closing rituals work with the whole group, other activities are separated by age and developmental level in order to stimulate all stages of growth and expression.
Programs are accessible to most, with bilingual speaking teachers (English and Indonesian) and special rates are open to families who are in need of them.