THE most fascinating part of theexhibit currently showing at the CostaRican-North American Cultural Center(CCCN) is not the art hanging on the wall,or displayed under glass.Not that the art itself is not fascinating.Vividly painted woodcarvings hang alongsidestitched images adorned with shells,stones and ocean-worn glass. Visitors catchglimpses of themselves in mirrors set intodriftwood. Piles of jewelry using much ofthe same beach material mixed with polishedstones and silver sit on displaysdown the center of the gallery.But how the art came to be, and how itcame to San José, is the most intriguingstory here, and will enhance any viewer’sappreciation of the exhibit.The artists featured in this show are themen, women and youth from the four communitiesimmediately surrounding HotelPunta Islita, a luxury resort in the northwesternprovince of Guanacaste, on thePacific coast. Some work at the hotel,some are the spouses and children of hotelemployees, and some simply live in itsshadow. Through the hotel’s initiative andthe financial support of the sustainable developmentorganization Fundecooperación,they have formed three differentartists’ collectives, creating uniqueart pieces from local materials for showand sale.THE program began three years ago atthe “Encounter in Punta Islita,” explainedLoida Pretiz, who works closely with theartists and runs the open-air Punta IslitaContemporary Museum.“The Encounter in Punta Islita,” Pretizsaid, “was an invitation to a group of contemporaryartists to come from San José tothe community of Islita, to create works ofart in the community: murals, sculptures,various projects. It was a group of verywell-recognized artists, such as LuisChacón, Florencia Urbina, Paulina Ortiz,Edgar Zúñiga, Ana Victoria Garro and OttoApuy.”After the encounter, Pretiz, who is anartist in her own right and works with paintand ceramics, anthropologist and jewelerEmilia Rodríguez, and woodworkerRodolfo Morales began to work with membersof the community, showing them theirvarious artistic techniques and encouragingthe community members’ own creativity.They formed three distinct groups:Jóvenes Islita, a group of young peoplefrom the four surrounding communities;Bosquemar, a mixed-age and -gendergroup that works with wood under theguidance of Rodolfo Morales; andPapaturras, a group for only women.“WHEN we began to get together,”Pretiz recounted, referring to Papaturras,“they said, ‘well, what we know how to dois sew.’ Okay, well, let’s sew, but let’s sewsomething different, something original,something unique. We want to do thingsthey don’t do in other parts of the country,because people tend to repeat the samemotifs, the same techniques. What wewanted was a type of artistic expressionthat was something different.”“So the women began to collect materials,”Pretiz continued, “and they said,‘Ay, Loida! Imagine that we had all theselittle rocks and things around us, and wedidn’t have any idea we could make artwith them. It has opened our eyes. This isincredible. The only things we have are thethread and the cloth. Everything else isright there, discarded, and we never sawit.’ It is like opening their minds. For them,it is an awakening to their creativity.”IN addition to awakening creativityand self-confidence in the artists, the projecthas changed the relationship betweenthe community and the tourists.“When people come to the hotel, theysay, ‘the most interesting thing that hashappened to us was meeting the people ofGuanacaste, who are so warm, so friendly,’”Pretiz said.“The idea of Punta Islita and the museumis to create a different tourism, basedon not only nature but also culture and art,”she added. “Many people come to CostaRica to see the monkeys, the ocean. But wewant people to also come and see that thereis an artistic, cultural center.”The Punta Islita exhibit is showing atthe art gallery in the North American-CostaRican Cultural Center near La SabanaPark, in western San José, through May 2.For more information, call the center at207-7554 or the Hotel Punta Islita officesat 290-4259.