Puppets Up! Helps to Build Communities – From Almonte to India.

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by Peter Mansfield, Architect

A series of events that started at Puppets UP in Almonte this past August has led to a group of Carleton University students leaving this Friday for a ten day tour of India.

The connection happened like this: After 11 years of being audience members at Almonte’s Puppets Up festival each summer, my wife Marilee and I finally ‘stepped up’ to be hosts and were treated with the introduction to Master Puppeteer Puran Bhat and three other members of his family who make up the Aakaar Puppet Theatre from Delhi.

The Mansfield family and-Indian guests Gudi, Akshay,Martine and Pavan

The opening morning of Puppets Up, the documentary ‘My Gypsy Colony’ by Martine Palmer, was screened at the Almonte Old Town Hall. Martine, a documentarian, puppeteer and former student of Puran who lives just outside Paris was also in Almonte to introduce her film. The subject of ’My Gypsy Colony’ is in large part about the displacement of the Kathputli Colony (a squatter community of some 2,500 families of artists of mainly Rajasthani decent) and their re-settlement resulting from the sale of this land by the government to developers.  The local government representatives, known as the Delhi District Authority (or DDA), has promised to provide new housing for Puran and his community of fellow puppeteers, dancers, wood carvers, and textile artists although only in the form of 11 storey high rise apartment blocks. This generic solution is sure to extinguish much of the vibrancy and connectivity of the current community. Fortunately, Puran and a group of other residents have made progress negotiating with the DDA  in an effort to provide more suitable housing even producing concept plans to present to the DDA and the developer.

This Friday, February 17th, Marilee and I are joining Professor Ben Gianni and a group of students from the Azieli School of Architecture and Urbanism to visit Puran in the Kathputli Colony and study the cause and potential solutions around this situation. Among the group is a graduate student from Carleton University who is building her thesis around the Kathputli Colony situation and has already been at work for 3 months studying this situation in much greater depth.

It is everyone’s hope that she and her fellow students might in some small way contribute ideas and resources to Puran and his community to forward their efforts.  After four days in Delhi we continue to Ahmedabad and Chandigarh.

While spending time this past summer with Puran, Gudi, Akshay, Pavan and Martine, it was my hope that a connection might happen by way of Carleton University and Professor Gianni’s International Housing Design Studio. After pitching the idea early last September here we are: twenty five fourth-year architecture students, two professors, one graduate thesis student, an Almonte Music Teacher (and yours truly) are on our way to …well, who knows?! We return at the end of the month and will report back.  Thank-you Noreen Young. Thank-you volunteers. Thank-you friendly town of Almonte for supporting creativity. Thank-you Puppets Up!

Martine and Marilee in a Mehndi session – traditional Indian hand painting